MY HOLLYWOOD by Mona Simpson

Book Quote:

“All along, Paul had agreed that he wouldn’t keep working like this. He was agreeing still. The when just got pushed further ahead. I kept asking for and receiving my future promise, which I carried around in my pocket. Now I felt like a bill collector.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (SEP 12, 2010)

Mona Simpson’s book, My Hollywood, explores the relationship of mothers, children and nannies in southern California, most particularly in Santa Monica. The novel is told from two vantage points, the first one Claire, a mother in her 30’s with a 2 1/2 year old son, William. The other vantage point is Lola’s, the Filipina nanny who works as a live-in nanny for Claire and her husband Paul during the week when she takes care of  “Williamo.”  Lola also has a second job on the weekends, taking care of the son of a friend of Claire and Paul’s.

The novel opens with a conversation between Paul and Claire as they explore their unmarried relationship and whether they should they take it further. Both agree that a 50-50 responsibility for children and home is a must if they choose to marry and pursue their careers. Claire is a composer and Paul writes for comedy television. They use the $37,000 that Claire won from a Guggenheim grant to move to California. Once there, things change enormously from the decisions they had agreed upon prior to marriage.  Paul is rarely home. He goes to work at 8:30 a.m., needing his space before and during breakfast, and he rarely returns before midnight. He is always afraid that his contract will not be renewed even when he has his own sitcom show. Claire composes music in a dingy room that is hot and lacks air conditioning. She is not feeling productive. In fact, she is angry about the obvious lack of balance in her marriage. She tries to talk to Paul about the inequities and though he agrees, he keeps putting off a time when he can change. Claire complains to a friend of hers. She is sick of eating dinner with the nanny and her two-year old. Her friend tells her that if she gets divorced she will still be eating dinner with a two year-old and perhaps not have a nanny.

The book repeats the same information several times. It is also relatively unfocused, especially during the first half. The second half focuses more on the protagonists’ thoughts and inner lives and becomes somewhat more centered. However, this was not enough to revive my interest.

The real star of this book is Lola. She is the queen of the nannies, respected and looked up to by the other nannies.  She trains nannies for their jobs, mentors them, and conveys the  rules that she expects nannies to live by. One rule  is that nannies should not eat with their employers. Another is that they should not take give-aways until their employer insists several times. There are pages of rules to live by.

There is a continual conflict between the loyalty that nannies feel towards their families and charges and the money that they expect to be paid. At one point, Lola is offered a much better paying job by her weekend family who are trying to steal her from Paul and Claire. Lola figures out the amount of money she’ll be losing over a ten-year period if she stays at her current job, and it is over $70,000. However, Lola chooses to stay with her current employers because she loves “Williamo.”  The nannies are also competitive about who works in the nicest home. Lola is not in the forefront here because Paul and Claire rent a place that is relatively small.

Lola’s own children are in the Philippines and she grows closer to “Williamo” than she is to them. She has been in the U.S. for over six years and at one point she finds out that her husband has been unfaithful. She decides to remain in the U.S. because this is her only way of sending back thousands of dollars a year to her family, money that pays for her children’s education.

It is never clear in this book what drew Claire and Paul together. Claire doesn’t seem attracted to Paul at all and there is no real romantic love between them. Why they married is a mystery. The book has several gaps like this mixed with parts that are told to the reader so many times that I’ve memorized passages. I loved Mona Simpson’s previous novel Anywhere But Here and was thoroughly looking forward to this book. Unfortunately, My Hollywood disappoints because the characters’ voices don’t ring true and the content of the novel meanders and is unfocused.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 44 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf (August 3, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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September 12, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Class - Race - Gender, Contemporary, Family Matters

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