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Monday, July 18, 2011

My New American Life

My New American Life
Francine Prose
Harper, 2011

Lulu is an illegal alien from Albania who has overstayed her welcome on a tourist visa. After working under the table at a restaurant in New York, she answered an au pair ad on the Internet to care for a 17 year old high school student, Zach. Zach and his college professor turned Wall Street businessman father have been on their own ever since their mentally disturbed wife and mother left them. Lula's job is simple: she is to make wholesome meals for Zach while also keeping him out of trouble. Fortunately for Lulu, her employer discovered she was in the country illegally and he has asked his high power attorney friend to get her a green card. But, just when Lulu starts to relax whenever she sees a police car, some Albanian “cousins” show up and manipulate her into some questionable activities that, if discovered, will surely get her deported.

Set in the aftermath of 9/11 while Bush is in office, Lulu is more cynical and world-weary than the average citizen, most likely because of her past experiences in Albania. She is thankful that she has such a cushy job, but her life is pretty quiet for a 26 year old whose only excitement so far has been buying junk food at the grocery store and sneaking weak mixed drinks to her charge. She finds herself creating elaborate stories for her employer and her lawyer to justify her reluctance to return to the corrupt and violent Albania. When her “cousins” ask her to hide a handgun, she accepts despite the chance that she will get caught and be deported. Poor Lulu can’t seem to stop herself from doing whatever the Albanians ask – maybe because she finds one of the “cousins” very cute and wants him to come back to visit. Not the smartest thing, she knows, but she just can't help it.

The satirical nature of this novel may not appeal to everyone. Prose has some obvious targets here: the college that accepts disinterested Zach because they recently had a school shooting and are desperate for students; the mentally ill mother who goes to Sedona on a spirit-quest; the immigration attorney who’s made a mess of his own life, etc. While it is interesting to see our country through the eyes of an immigrant character, and while Lulu is engaging and appealing, the novel slowly builds suspense only to fall flat with a disappointing and predictable ending. I’ve enjoyed some of Prose’s other works much more than this one.


Other novels by this author:

Guided Tours of Hell: novellas (1997)
After (2003) -- YA
A Changed Man (2005)
Blue Angel (2005)
Bullyville (2007) – YA
Goldengrove (2008)
Touch (2009) – YA

Other books you may enjoy:

The Electric Michelangelo by Sarah Hall (2005)
After growing up in England and serving an apprenticeship under a drunken tattoo master, Cy heads for America, setting up a shop on Coney Island and falling in love with a circus performer.

Closing Costs by Seth Jacob Margolis (2006)
Possessing a talent for exposing the weaknesses of her rivals and playing them off of one another, Lucinda orchestrates three large deals that become subject to the real estate market's twists and turns, as well as such factors as embezzlement and forgery.

Too Much Money by Dominick Dunne (2009)
Writer Gus Bailey witnesses the disappearance of the old-money society that once occupied him and investigates the murder of one of the world's wealthiest men, an effort that is sabotaged by the man's calculating wife and schemers within Gus's own set.

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