One-Minute Book Reviews

June 18, 2008

Holly Peterson’s Bad Sex Scenes Are Back in the New Paperback Edition of ‘The Manny’

How bad are the sex scenes in Holly Peterson’s The Manny? Let’s just say that one begins with “Now she was on her knees …” and ends with “like a fire hose in her expensive mouth.” What if you’re tempted to buy The Manny (Dial, 368 pp., $12), anyway, now that the novel is out in paperback? Maybe you know it involves a Park Avenue mother who hires a male nanny for her 9-year-old son. And you think: With that catchy premise, how bad could it be? Here’s a sample line of dialogue: “We’re in the modern era, baby, you spoiled, Jurassic, archaic, Waspy piece of petrified wood!” (And, yes, that comes from a character we’re supposed to like.) Lines like that one earned the novel a spot on the shortlist for the 2008 Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books. You’ll find others in a review and Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to The Manny, published in separate posts on June 26, 2007 oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

June 30, 2007

Win a Copy of Holly Peterson’s ‘The Manny’

Filed under: Contests — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:53 pm
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What! You STILL want to read Holly Peterson’s The Manny after all I wrote this week about its cringe-inducing sex scenes? Okay, you can win my copy of this new novel about a Park Avenue wife who hires a male nanny to care for her 9-year-old son.

Here’s how to win:

1) Link from your blog to this post or any other on One-Minute Book Reviews (or add One-Minute Book Reviews to your blogroll).

2) Send an e-mail message that includes the link to the address on the “Contact” page on this site. Include your mailing address.

3) If you’re the first person to send a link I can verify and you live in the U.S., I’ll send you the book. (I’ll pay the postage.) This is the copy of The Manny that I used to write the review and reading group guide to the novel that appeared on this site on on June 26 www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/. I don’t mark up books (I make notes in a notebook), so the novel in good condition except for a smudge on the cover (underneath the dust jacket, so I didn’t see it until I got it home from the store). You can read the first pages of the novel by going to www.randomhouse.com and clicking on the links for the novel and then on “Read an excerpt.”

4) You must be age 18 or over to enter. And you may NOT link from a porn site or have won another contest on One-Minute Book Reviews within the past 30 days. I decide what’s “porn.”

Because links can be slow in showing up on Word Press and Technorati, you must send an e-mail message to the address on the contact page to win. I’ll judge the winner by the times on the e-mails.

This is the fourth in a series of book giveways that I’ll be having on Fridays or Saturdays on this site this summer. Contests are announced between 5 p.m. on Friday and 5 p.m. on Saturday Eastern time. There may not be a giveaway every week, and not all giveaways may require a link. Some may involve explaining why you want the book.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

June 26, 2007

Review of Holly Peterson’s ‘The Manny’: The Worst Sex Scenes Ever Published in a Novel Excerpted by Newsweek?

A rich Manhattanite hires a male nanny for her 9-year-old son and gets more than she bargained for

The Manny. By Holly Peterson. Dial Press, 353 pp., $25

By Janice Harayda

The emaciated carcasses of Park Avenue socialites have been pretty well picked over by novelists. First Tom Wolfe satirized the women whom he called “lemon tarts” and “social X-rays” in The Bonfire of the Vanities. Then came a second generation of writers who cannibalized rich Manhattanites’ lives for parts he spared. Candace Bushell took their sex lives in Four Blondes and other books, Nancy Lieberman their obsession with private schools in Admissions and – most memorably – Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus their ruthlessness to their nannies in The Nanny Diaries.

To all of this Holly Peterson brings one new idea, at least for anybody who hasn’t followed Britney Spears’s fumbled attempts at child care: A status symbol for some mothers is a male nanny who takes boys to batting cages and basketball courts when their fathers can’t get away from their high-flying jobs in law or finance. A while back, Peterson wrote a lively story about this for the New York Times that explained why she had hired men to care for her 3-year-old son. (It seems Jack wanted to sell his baby sister at the supermarket. ”Just leave her on the shelf next to the Teddy Grahams, Mom,” he proposed.) She now returns to male nannies in a glorified romance novel that’s better beach reading than Danielle Steel but not nearly as good as The Nanny Diaries.

Jamie Whitfield, a 36-year-old television producer, hires a younger man to care for her 9-year-old son because her callow husband earns $1.5 million a year but doesn’t seem to care that Dylan is suffering from “loss of self-esteem more than likely due to an absent dad. ” Jamie has middle-class, Midwestern roots – she married “up” – and professes disdain for the “showy and vulgar” New Yorkers she meets at a museum benefit.

But she acts at times like as much of a snob as her friends. She scorns the clothes of a researcher for her TV show: “She was wearing one of her awful Ann Taylor suits from the last century – a cherry-red one.” (She tells the woman, cruelly, “You look like an Avis car rental agent again.”) One problem with the jab is that in some Heartland cities – whose values Jamie is supposed to stand for – Ann Taylor stores are the most stylish in town. (I was thrilled when Ann Taylor moved into the Galleria in Cleveland, where I worked after writing for Glamour – not because I didn’t know you could find more fashionable clothes at Bendel’s and Bergdorf’s but because it offered an alternative to the Limited.) If Peterson wanted to pile more scorn on the suit, she could have done it more credibly with a reference to the lapels or fabric – it’s the gratuitous brand name that’s the tip-off to Jamie’s snobbery.

The Nanny Diaries succeeded, in part, because McLaughlin and Kraus had worked for more than 30 families as nannies and their details consistently came across as fresh and authentic. Peterson achieves this only erratically. Just as important, McLaughlin and Kraus had control of their tone from the start and never let you forget whom you were supposed to identify with – the exploited young nanny. Peterson’s tone is so uneven that she never establishes full sympathy for her heroine. The Manny says several times that Jamie’s son has low “self-esteem.” And because that phrase has been so overused that many journalists and others now avoid it, you might think the references are satirical. But they seem painfully earnest. The novel has the further burden of a pace that’s slow for at least the first 150 pages, after which the plot elements begin to mesh and push the story along more briskly. Even then, there isn’t much suspense about the question at the heart of the book: Will Jamie leave her indifferent husband for the manny who has charmed her young son?

Peterson seems to be trying to have it both ways – to suggest that Jamie has joined the uptown elite while remaining superior to it. The Manny reminds us that, in novels as in life, this is an act that only the most skilled can pull off.

Best line: Jamie talks about a show with network lawyer Geraldine Katz. “Geraldine once asked me how I could prove Michael Jackson really was the King of Pop.”

Worst line: Any of Peterson’s attempts to write a plausible sex scene. These are irreproducible on a site with many links from public libraries. But next time you’re in a bookstore, check out the scene on page 167 that begins with “Now she was on her knees …” and ends with “like a fire hose in her expensive mouth.” This is possibly the worst sex scene ever to appear in a novel excerpted by Newsweek, which has posted a portion of the book in its Web edition for June 17. The magazine does not include this scene in its excerpt in but uses a tamer passage for obvious reasons, including that excerpting this one could alienate a large portion of its subscription base.

The worst line not involving sex occurs when Jamie screams at her husband, “We’re in the modern era, baby, you spoiled, Jurassic, archaic, Waspy piece of petrified wood!” Yes, this is a character we’re supposed to like.

Reading group guide: A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to The Manny was posted on this site on June 26, 2007, in the post just before this review.

Editor: Susan Kamil

Published: June 2007

Furthermore: Peterson is a contributing editor of Newsweek.

Links: Peterson has a page on My Space (www.myspace.com/hollypetersonthemanny), but I’m having trouble getting the direct link to work from this site. You can find the page by going to www.myspace.com and searching “hollypetersonthemanny” (one word).

I can’t seem to link to the excerpt in the online edition of Newsweek, either, but you can find it by Googling “The Manny + excerpt + Newsweek.” You can find the same excerpt that appears in Newsweek on the publisher’s site www.randomhouse.com/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

 

www.janiceharayda.com

 

 

A Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guide to Holly Peterson’s ‘The Manny’

10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
The Manny
By Holly Peterson

This readers’ guide was not authorized or approved by the author, publisher or agent for the book. It is copyrighted by Janice Harayda and is only for your personal use. Its sale or reproduction is illegal except by public libraries, which may reproduce it for use in their in-house reading programs. Other reading groups that wish to use this guide should link to it or check the “Contact” page on One-Minute Book Reviews to learn how to request permission to reproduce the guide.

Five years ago Holly Peterson wrote a story about male nannies for the New York Times in which she explained why she had hired men to care for her 3-year-old son. It seems that Jack wanted to sell his baby sister at the supermarket. ”Just leave her on the shelf next to the Teddy Grahams, Mom,” he suggested. Peterson now returns to male nannies in her first novel, The Manny. Jamie Whitfield, a 36-year-old New York television producer, hires a younger man to care for her son because her rich, caddish husband doesn’t seem to care that Dylan suffers from a “loss of self-esteem more than likely due to an absent dad.” Jamie comes from a middle-class Midwestern background and loathes many of her “showy and vulgar” Upper East Side neighbors, whose sexual adventures can be as explicit as their preferences for brands like Bulgari and Chanel. And they aren’t her only problem. The Manny also involves infidelity, a political scandal and an FBI investigation. As the action moves from Manhattan to Aspen, Jamie faces a final question: Should she stay with her indifferent husband or cast her lot with a seemingly penniless male nanny who has charmed her young son?

Questions for Readers

1. Many well-known novelists have written about the world of the Park Avenue elite, including Tom Wolfe in The Bonfire of the Vanities. What, if anything, did you learn from The Manny that you didn’t get from other sources?

2. Nannies or other underlings have taken center stage in such recent bestsellers as The Nanny Diaries and The Devil Wears Prada. Some people would say that it’s easier for a novelist to evoke sympathy for such obviously exploited characters than for their bosses. Jamie Whitfield is the boss in The Manny. Does Holly Peterson create sympathy for Jamie? What did you find appealing or not appealing about her?

3. Peterson says that Jamie comes from “middle-class, Middle American roots” and “married into” her elite realm on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. [Page 7] Did Jamie strike you as a credible daughter of the Heartland? Why or why not?

4. Jamie dislikes many of the people in her social orbit, whom she sees as pretentious snobs. She says that guests at a museum benefit are “showy and vulgar” and “unintellectual and boring.” [Page 312] Does Jamie ever come across as a snob? Where? Do you think that Peterson intended this or that it’s a flaw in the novel?

5. New York magazine had this novel reviewed by real-life manny, Jake Shapiro, who questioned its title: “A more apt title would be The Mommy – the book focuses pretty tightly on Jamie and her desires for happier kids, an exciting career, and a better marriage. Peter, the manny, is a stock character, a callow guy in his twenties on the rebound from a busted romance.” [“A Man Among Nannies,” by Jake Shapiro, New York, June 25, 2007 www.nymag.com/arts/books/features/33518/.] Do agree that Peter is a “stock character”? Why or why not? What could Peterson have done to make him less of a stock character and give him more depth?

6. One critic of The Nanny Diaries wrote that while the nanny and others in the novel were unique and believable characters, the boy the nanny cared for wasn’t – he came across as a generic child. How well did Peterson portray Dylan in The Manny? Was he unique and believable or a generic boy?

7. Critics use the term roman-à-clef (novel-with-a-key) to describe books that invite you to guess which people or incidents inspired their characters. Does that characterization fit all or parts of The Manny? Why?

8. The Manny has its roots in an article Peterson wrote for the New York Times. A British reviewer wrote that the novel feels “more like a collection of newspaper pieces than a coherent narrative.” [The Telegraph, March 18, 2007] Do you agree or disagree? What makes the book seem like a novel or collection of articles to you?

9. The Manny has multiple story lines that involve the manny, a political scandal Jamie is covering at her network, and an FBI investigation of the law firm where her husband, Phillip, practices. One challenge of keeping several story lines going is that you have to tie them together at the end. How well did Peterson do this?

10. Another challenge of working with multiple story lines that you have to give background for each up front, which can make a novel slow in getting off the ground. How would you describe the pace of The Manny? Did it ever seem to drag? Where? Why did the novel move faster in some places than others?

If you dare:
11. The Manny has some fairly explicit – some might say trashy – sex scenes, such as the one on page 167. Did these strike you as realistic? Or is Peterson one of those authors who should be barred by the New York City Council from ever trying to write a credible scene that includes the line, “Now she was on her knees …”

Vital statistics
The Manny. By Holly Peterson. Dial Press, 353 pp., $25. Published June 2007.

A review of The Manny appeared on One-Minute Book Reviews on June 26, 2007 http://oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/06/26. It saved both with the June posts and in the “Novels” category on the site.

Links: The excerpt from The Manny appears on the online edition of Newsweek dated June 17, 2007. I can’t link directly to it, but you can find the excerpt by Googling “The Manny + excerpt + Newsweek.” You can also find an excerpt and more on the Random House site www.randomhouse.com.

Peterson’s article “It’s So Nice to Have a Manny Around the House” ran in the New York Times, Nov 3, 2002, pg. 9.2. You have to register for the Times‘s site to access the article but may be able to find it elsewhere on the Web.

Your book group may also want to read:
The Nanny Diaries. By Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. St. Martin’s, 320 pp., $13.95 paperback (tie-in edition for the movie due out in September 2007). This novel does not have a diary format but uses first-person narration to depict the life of a nanny for ruthless parents who inhabit a world similar to that of The Manny.

Janice Harayda www.janiceharayda.com is an award-winning critic who has been the book columnist for Glamour, book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle. One-Minute Book Reviews does not accept free books from editors, publishers or authors, and all reviews and guides offer an independent evaluation of books that is not influenced by marketing concerns. If this guide helped you, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed. Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides appear frequently but no on a regular schedule.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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