10 Discussion Questions for Book Clubs and Others
By Holly Peterson
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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 …”
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.