'My Hollywood': Mona Simpson's love triangle of a boy, his mom and his nanny
Book review: Mona Simpson's funny/sad novel "My Hollywood" is about a love triangle involving a young boy, his overbooked mother and a Filipino nanny who loves the boy like a grandson. Simpson reads Sept. 30 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.
Special to The Seattle Times
Mona SimpsonThe author of "My Hollywood" will read at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Seattle's Elliott Bay Book Co.; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
by Mona Simpson
Knopf, 369 pp., $26.95
Mona Simpson's new novel "My Hollywood" — her first in 10 years, following "Anywhere But Here," "The Lost Father," "A Regular Guy" and the novella "Off Keck Road — is about a love that dare not speak its name. It is told, in alternating chapters and voices, by Claire, a Santa Monica mother, and Lola, a 50-something woman from the Philippines hired as a nanny to Claire's son, William.
Claire, a composer married to an emotionally distant TV writer, loves her son but finds caring for him overwhelming; Lola manages the child with calm competence while shrewdly watching her employer, who looks "like she has too much assigned to her; she cannot complete it all before she dies."
And so begins a complex triangle, with one corner of it being a small child. Claire, freed to spend more time on her music, appreciates Lola but worries about her own role (out with Lola, she wonders, shouldn't the mother push the stroller?).
Lola, who has a husband and grown children back home, comes to love "Williamo" like a grandson — but knows all too well that while she may be part of the family, she's a limb easily severed.
Adapting her familiar staccato rhythms to the lilt of Lola's learned English ("the birthday of Bing," "the room of Claire"), Simpson skillfully manages to move us with the two women's emotions even as she surrounds them with wicked satire. Claire attends a parenting class where the goal is to ingratiate oneself with the instructor (the principal of a tony private school) and where a crib clashing with an established room décor is a problem worth discussion.
At a Hollywood party, we hear of a thousand-dollar dress tossed in the dryer ("Brookie's American Girl doll's wearing it now") and a mother whose child-care staff outnumbers her children and nonetheless claims that she can't get anything done, speaking "with the unapologetic air that came with money."
Much of the book is slyly funny, and yet there's an essential sadness to it; a sense of the nanny as a ghost mother whom the child will someday outgrow, an invisible angel-in-the-house whose ministrations are quickly forgotten.
After working her Mary Poppins magic, Lola ponders, her employers seem to feel that "I should go back where I came from, an island of dark millions, all good with kids. But Disney did not draw me. And I refuse to dissolve into sky."
Moira Macdonald is the movie critic for The Seattle Times.
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