One-Minute Book Reviews

June 26, 2007

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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May 28, 2007

A Totally Authorized Reading Group Guide to ‘The Accidental Bride’ by Janice Harayda

10 Discussion Questions
The Accidental Bride
A Comedy of Midwestern Manners

Note: Because of the holiday, I’m taking the day off from reviewing and posting this readers’ guide to The Accidental Bride, my first novel. This differs slightly from the other guides on this site, because I haven’t reviewed the book and am instead using some of the material the publisher sent out when the book came out in hardcover. A guide to my second comedy of manners, Manhattan on the Rocks (Sourcebooks, 2004), appeared on March 14, 2007. You can find it by clicking either on the March posts archive or the Totally Unauthorized Reading Groups Guide category (although the guides to both of my novels, unlike the others on this site, are totally authorized). Jan

One month before her fairy-tale wedding to the third richest man in the second largest city in Ohio, Lily Blair is beset by doubts. She appears to have a charmed life – a budding newspaper career and a five-carat engagement ring from a wonderful man – but can’t decide whether to plunge headfirst into the security of married suburban life or follow her career dreams alone to New York. Her family and friends keep nudging her toward the aisle. But Lily has qualms about a wedding her mother wants to stage like a full-scale military operation. Amid the plans, Lily looks to Jane Austen for inspiration. Can she find what she needs in novels like Pride and Prejudice? The answer doesn’t emerge until the last pages of book that Publishers Weekly called “a witty and wise comedy of manners that pays homage to Jane Austen.”

Questions for Book Clubs and Others

1. Each chapter of The Accidental Bride begins with a quote from Jane Austen. How do these quotes relate to the plot? Do they serve different purposes in the individual chapters and in the novel as a whole? What are the purposes? You may want to compare The Accidental Bride to Karen Joy Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club.

2. Many reviewers noted that the humor in The Accidental Bride is satirical. What are some of the things the novel is satirizing? Does Janice Harayda satirize some of the same things that Austen does?

3. Satire can take many forms. For example, it can be gentle or biting (sometimes both in the work of the same author, as in Austen’s novels). How would you describe the satire in The Accidental Bride?

4. The first sentence of The Accidental Bride reads: “One month before her wedding to the third richest man in the second largest city in Ohio, Lily Blair awoke in the middle of the night and realized that she did not want to get married.” The author doesn’t name that “second largest city.” But you may know that it is Cleveland. (The largest city is Columbus, the capital.) Why you do think the author didn’t name Cleveland? Do you think she did this for legal, literary, or other reasons? How might your reactions to the novel have changed if the author had named Cleveland in the first line?

5. Lily, the heroine of The Accidental Bride, doesn’t want to see a psychiatrist because she doesn’t think many therapists are as wise as writers like La Rochefoucauld, who said, “In love there is always the kisser and the one who gets kissed.” What does this saying mean? Is there a “kisser” and a “one who gets kissed” in The Accidental Bride?

6. Lily also admires another writer who says “love is an agreement on the part of two people to overestimate each other.” Do you think that writer was being serious or facetious or both?

7. A critic for The New York Times wrote in her review of The Accidental Bride that “Harayda is an astute social commentator.” That is, she is saying some things about our society in addition to telling a story. What are some of the things you think she is trying to say?

8. In novels about women in their twenties, the men are often cads. That’s especially true of the heroines’ boyfriends. Lily’s boyfriend, Mark, is different. He is a kind and thoughtful man who is trying to understand the woman he loves. How does this affect the plot and other aspects of the story?

9. Mark is trial lawyer who is forced to defend a company accused – with good reason – of age discrimination. Do you see any parallels between Lily’s situation and that of the older people in the lawsuit (called “Geezers” and “Geezerettes” by their employer)?

10. The Accidental Bride belongs to the genre known as the “comedy of manners,” which consists of fiction that tweaks the customs of a particular group (often a group that is — or sees itself — as upper class). The humor in this genre tends to involve wit and charm instead of slapstick or physical comedy. A classic example is Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest. What are some other plays, movies, or novels that are comedies of manners? Why do you like them?

Praise for The Accidental Bride
“Satire with heart … In a style that careens from Austenesque to Corporate Memo-ese, Janice Harayda has written a farce that dissects the farce of the matrimonial ceremony. Lily is a charming character.”
— Olivia Goldsmith, bestselling author of The First Wives Club

“A thoroughly entertaining first novel.”
— Joyce R. Slater, Chicago Sun-Times

“Sparkling with wit and humor, this is a story that charms.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Harayda’s first novel has plenty of snappy, witty dialog, humorous scenarios, and sexual innuendo.”
Margaret Ann Hanes, Library Journal

“A frothy comedy … Harayda is an astute social commentator.”
— Maggie Galehouse, The New York Times

“Harayda is quick with a quip and merciless at sniping at an unnamed Ohio city … Residents of that city may not find this funny, but everyone else will.”
— Michele Leber, Booklist

“Vigorous wit, playful homage to the winsome heroines of great nineteenth-century novels, and a charming, irresolute heroine make this tale of a woman who doesn’t want to get married an unusually filling trifle.”
— Karen Karbo, San Francisco Chronicle (“Recommended” book)

“Harayda’s sense of the humorously absurd, combined with her gift for timing and fun, make this book readable and fun … Did I ever put it down? No. I read it at breakfast, at dinner, in the bubble bath. I got to liking Lily and wanted to find out what would happen.”
— Wendy Smith, San Diego Union Tribune

“The former book editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Harayda has made Lily a displaced reporter. This gives the author a wonderful chance to skewer newsroom types … half the fun for the reader is helping Lily sort out her misgivings [about her wedding] and figure out which are real and which are only flutters.”
— Kit Reed, St. Petersburg Times

“The Accidental Bride is a worthy counterpart to … Bridget Jones’s Diary [Harayda’s] hand at social satire rivals Austen’s … Lily Blair is a charming heroine … The reader is pleased to go along for the ride.”
Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

“Nicely skewers today’s over-the-top weddings and the whole wedding industry.”
— Linda Brazill, The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

“The Accidental Bride is a delightful romp of a book, both funny and wise and very much a story for our times. In Lily Blair, Jan Harayda has created a contemporary character who outdoes the best of Jane Austen’s most memorable women. When feisty Lily comes to terms with one of the biggest decisions of her life, the reader can do nothing but cheer.”
— Ruth Coughlin, author of Grieving: A Love Story

“True laughs and true lover abound in this galloping romanic comedy. Jan Harayda goes after the smug assumptions of suburban weddings and the absurdity of ‘mandatory’ matrimony. The wit is civilized, the heart is romantic, and the wisecracks are indeed wise.”
— Steve Szilagyi, author of Photographing Fairies

“The Accidental Bride is a charmingly witty, modern-day satirical tale of a woman trying to keep her balance as she teeters on the edge of matrimony.”
Charles Salzberg, co-author of On Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place

Vital Statistics
The Accidental Bride: A Romantic Comedy. By Janice Harayda. St. Martin’s/Griffin, 304 pp., $13.95, paperback.

To invite Janice Harayda to speak to your book group in person or by speakerphone, please use the e-mail address on the “Contact” page of www.janiceharayda.com and write “Book Club” in the subject heading of your note.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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