This summer’s "most hyped must-have" beach read is THE MANNY, a debut novel by former ABC News producer Holly Peterson. It’s a cross between THE NANNY DIARIES and THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, with plenty of fashion worries, lively sex and shallow socializing. Underneath the light plot is a more sober running commentary about the superficial lives of the richer-than-rich, the inability of money to solve relationship problems and mid-life musings on what’s most important.
As the story begins, 36-year-old Jamie Whitfield has her hands full as the mother of three lively children: two-year-old Michael, five-year-old Gracie and nine-year-old Dylan. Add to this a demanding job as a news producer and a narcissist husband, and Jamie is at a breaking point. The formerly middle-class, Midwestern woman struggles with her Upper East Side life and a raised-on-Park-Avenue attorney husband who can’t quite make ends meet on a million-plus-dollar income each year. Just when she thinks her plate is full enough, Dylan begins showing signs of withdrawal from the world and is anxious to the point of being immobilized at times. She knows he needs help from a male role model.
When she meets the hunky Peter Bailey, a young software entrepreneur who seems good with children, Jamie thinks she has found someone who will make up for Phillip’s lack in the fatherhood department. She hires him as a “manny” to help bring Dylan out of his introverted shell. What she’s not taking into the equation is her own frustrations over Phillip and how easily Peter seems to fill in the gaps in her disappointing married life.
The middle-aged mom fantasy element is in full play here. Peter isn’t just any young Turk off the streets of New York City. He is kind, intelligent, loves children, and is hot, hot, hot. Most of all, he admires and appreciates Jamie, just when her snobby husband Phillip ignores her or criticizes her as not good enough for his social set at every turn of the page.
Jamie buries herself in her work, but when her big news report on a conservative congressman’s affair goes awry, not only her marriage but her job is in jeopardy. And affairs aren’t just a part of her work life. Will Peter be the one to put all the pieces back together again? Or can Jamie shore up her already precarious marriage? (And can anyone really stay in love for long with a husband whose computer password is B-E-A-V-E-R?)
Laudably, Peterson doesn’t make the cheating, dirty-dealing, self-absorbed Phillip all bad. Throughout the book, readers will see flashes of the nice guy that attracted Jamie way back when their marriage was vibrant and happy. Peter seems a little too good to be true, and a few character flaws might have made him a more believable character. Since this is not literary fiction --- just light, fun reading --- it doesn’t matter.
The theme that will resonate with readers is that old fictional tried-and-true cliché: love with the right person is the only real happiness. No amount of money, mannies, the right schools, the right job, the right clothes or the right socializing makes Jamie happy, but ultimately she does seem to discover a soul mate. (You’ll have to read the book to discover if it’s Phillip or Peter; we won’t give away the ending.) It is also a cautionary tale about how marriages and families get into trouble, and what happens when other priorities take first place (such as a high-paying powerful career, or a hunger for being seen in all the right places with all the right people).
Although originality is not THE MANNY’s strong point, many exhausted working moms will find it an entertaining escape.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at email@example.com. on January 7, 2011
- Publication Date: June 19, 2007
- Genres: Fiction
- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: The Dial Press
- ISBN-10: 0385340400
- ISBN-13: 9780385340403