One-Minute Book Reviews

February 29, 2008

2008 Delete Key Awards Finalist #8 – Holly Peterson’s ‘The Manny’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:58 am
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Delete Key Awards Finalist #8 – From Holly Peterson’s The Manny:

“We’re in the modern era, baby, you spoiled, Jurassic, archaic, Waspy piece of petrified wood!”

“He was munching furiously on his prey, like an African lion with a freshly caught zebra.”

Guess which part of the body the “prey” is.

The ten 2008 Delete Key Awards finalists are being numbered but announced in random order.

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

February 26, 2008

Should This Line From the ‘The Devil in the Junior League’ Make the Shortlist for the 2008 Delete Key Awards?

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:50 pm
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Here’s the kind of question I’ve been wrestling with while compiling the shortlist for the annual Delete Key Awards that will be announced Friday: Should the following line from The Devil in the Junior League (St. Martin’s/Griffin, 341 pp., $12.95, paperback) appear on the list? Linda Francis Lee writes in this comic novel about backstabbing Texas socialites:

“Sure, I wanted the chance to explain why I had been less than mannerly to him, but that didn’t mean I wanted all those overly feelingish feelings he had an uncanny ability to make me, well … feel.”

Why it should be on the list: Would you buy this novel if the book flopped open to this line while you were looking at it in Borders?

Why it shouldn’t: No. 1: The writing on the Delete Key shortlist tends to be unintentionally funny. This line is – I think – supposed to be funny (and, if delivered by the right actress, could be). No. 2: The Devil in the Junior League is pop fiction that’s up against heavier-hitters like On Chesil Beach. No. 3: Would I libel the state of Texas by suggesting that this is how women there think ?

I’m leaning against it. Lee may be just too good for this shortlist.

The finalists for the Delete Key Awards will be announced Friday in separate posts that will begin at 10 a.m. Eastern Time and appear at about 30-minute intervals throughout the day. The full shortlist will be posted by the end of the day.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 30, 2007

Do We Need Awards for Brand-Name Blight in Fiction?

Designer labels fester in fiction despite the critics’ complaints

By Janice Harayda

Do we need awards for brand-name blight in fiction?

Critics have complained for years about novelists who tell you about their characters’ designer labels as a substitute for character development. But the problem keeps spreading. In many novels you read about more than the labels on characters’ clothes and shoes. You learn the brand names on their cars, appliances, baby gear and more.

The most egregious example I’ve reviewed was Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (Vintage, 1991) www.randomhouse.com, a novel about a young Wall Street serial killer, who “describes his designer lifestyle in excruciating detail,” as Nora Rawlinson wrote aptly in Library Journal. But Ellis at least seemed to be trying to develop a theme — that our culture views products and people as equally disposable and that consumerism fosters violence.

Many novels, though less grotesque than American Psycho, have no such core. Their authors use designer labels as a shortcut to meaning. Brand-name abuse is a sin that I consider in giving out the annual Delete Key Awards on this site. But books can go wrong in so many ways that the prizes don’t focus on label blight. Should I give separate awards for Brand-Name Blight in Fiction (maybe in the summer after I’ve had a few months to recover from naming the winners of the Delete Key Awards on the Ides of March)? Can you suggest candidates?

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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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