Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No Ruts Review #3: Nanny Returns, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

I was really undecided about what to read to complete the No Ruts Reading Challenge silver level. The point, of course, is to remember that everyone's experience with a book is different, so don't let the opinions of others overly sway you to or from any one book. One great example, for me, is Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. I know a number of people who have just loved the entire series, and some who even went  to a midnight release party for the final book, such was their enthusiasm. I loved the first book and devoured it in a weekend.  I got about halfway through the second book before I got bored and quit, and I think I made it through a chapter or two of the third, at best.

So I went poking around the major book websites looking for something that attracted criticism. And on Barnes & Noble, I found it:

"I bought "Nanny Returns" because I enjoyed the "Nanny Diaries" so much. "Nanny Returns" was a very poor follow-up to the first book. It was hard to follow, poorly written, too much "stuff" going on in the book that didn't follow the story. I won't buy another book by these authors."

Like many people, I enjoyed The Nanny Diaries; I've also bought some of the authors' follow-up books and been sorely disappointed. Actually, I bought one other book by them - Dedication - but it felt like a lot more, and I, too, swore off the authors after reading it.

Nanny Returns takes Nan back to New York ten years after the end of the first book, where she is sucked back into the world of the X family, allowing the reader to see how it all turns out for Grayer, who turns up, rather mysteriously, on her doorstep shortly after she arrives. This sets the tone for the book: People show up to draw Nan into events, where her primary function is to serve as a witness for the reader. Ostensibly, she is there to help them out or provide some service, but each time, she seems to leave with instructions to follow, without any meaningful interaction from her. In short, everyone treats her the way Mrs. X did, and although much time has passed and Nan has great misgivings about what she sees and the actions she is asked to take (and even she sometimes questions why she is there to begin with), she continues to show up whenever she is ordered to do so.

That said, a quick look at some of the characters' names tell you the authors aren't really reaching for believability here: Apart from the X family (X is their name), Grayer has a younger brother named Stilton, Nan has an old friend named Citrine, there's a child named Calliope somewhere in there, and another one named Itsy (child of Bitsy). You only have to read a character's name to know if he's on the side of middle-class normalcy or wealth, self-absorption, and immorality. In Nanny-land, there is no in-between: the characters are either caricatures of the rich, or they're regular people without an overabundance of money.

It's good that the names are such guideposts, because there isn't a lot of character development, and many of their actions lack logical motivation. They do things, they do other things ... things happen. Nanny needs to be there for the reader to narrate and pass judgment, but as far as the book goes, it's hard to really see why she's there at all. She is hired by a private school, which pays her vast sums of money to be a consultant, yet her entire function is to stand silently around the back of the room watching other people take outrageous, morally questionable stances. Occasionally, someone demands that Nan take some action that presents her with a moral quandary, yet her only real option is to accept it or quit: there is no middle ground and never attempts to find one.

Lots of the plot points are drawn from news, so if you've been following Vanity Fair magazine for the last few years, you will find yourself in familiar territory.

So, was the reviewer right? Yes. Nanny Returns is basically a throwaway - tossed together and not well written. The worst part? I enjoyed it every last minute of it, even though I saw the ending coming a mile away (hint). It's a fun beach read that you can amble through easily. The characters are familiar and it's fun to live their crazy, excessive lifestyle with them for a bit, even sitting in judgement of them at the same time. It's not real and clearly not meant to be. 

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