It’s easy to hate Holly Peterson. She was born rich – her father, a lord of the Blackstone Group, is said to be worth $1.9 billion. She’s married to an investment banker, has three kids who could be in Ralph Lauren ads, and lives at just the right address on Park Avenue. She’s had plum jobs at ABC News and Newsweek. And then, just to rub it in, this first-time writer scored a $1-million-plus advance for two novels. Which led, inevitably, to a book party at the Four Seasons – and darlings, everyone was there.
For the great unwashed? The writer’s exceedingly grand explanation for her publishing success: “I have a unique perch from which to write about this world. I’ve got a big fat toe in it. Most people in this world don’t write about it and most journalists don’t see it.”
Yowser! Was it any surprise that all this was followed by the knives?!
Gawker, as usual, had the sharpest blade: “Holly’s ‘perch’ is the farthest thing from ‘unique.’ She’s riding the tail end of the latest iteration of the socialite roman a clef trend…. And while at one point it might have been true that ‘most people in that world don’t write about it,’ right now, at least, it seems that nearly all of them are.” Close on Gawker’s stiletto heels: the civilian reviewers on Amazon.com, who pretty much gagged at the writing, the story and, come to think of it, the whole idea of the novel.
So why do are you reading praise for The Manny from a reviewer that lives and dies on their ability to do more than deliver slack-jawed praise for blatantly commercial projects?
Because sometimes a blatantly commercial project is actually well done – and The Manny is one of them.
And because inside every thin socialite is a bright mind struggling to get out – and in The Manny, it does.
The story is simplicity itself. Our heroine (and narrator) is Jamie Whitfield. She’s 36, and, just like her creator, lives on Park Avenue and has three children. In real life, Peterson assures us, her husband is her ‘life source’; Jamie’s husband is a self-obsessed jerk, a corporate lawyer from a fine old New York family. Translated, that means Philip makes $1.5 million a year, but is perpetually broke (shades of Bonfire of the Vanities there).
Jamie is Minnesota-born (read: good values) and totally committed to her job as a TV producer. Adores her kids. Tries to love her difficult-to-love husband. Struggles to fulfil their unending social obligations on ‘The Grid’, that zip-code-plus zone of Manhattan wealth and striving.
No one could keep this many balls in the air, and Jamie can’t either. And because the secret failings of the parents often become visible in the lives of their kids, her oldest boy falters. In front of all the people who matter, nine-year-old Dylan declines to take the final shot in a close basketball game. Instead, he falls to the court, clutching the ball. Humiliating!
Clearly, Dylan needs a man who will build his self-confidence and help him with his boy skills. His father is unavailable, so Jamie hires Peter Bailey, 29, killer handsome and quietly ambitious – when he gets funding for his software program, he’ll be a CEO. But for now, he’s happy to be a male nanny – a ‘manny’.
Philip is a trivial man; his concerns are his squash racket, pulp-free orange juice and perfunctory early-morning sex. Peter is deeper; he not only gives Dylan the support he needs, he tries to support Jamie as well. She’s not the only woman who’s overburdened, he says; there are many ‘Wall Street widows’. And they all hate their husbands.
Jamie can’t deal with Peter Bailey. She’s too busy tracking a devastating story. Of course, it goes wrong, and at the worst possible time – just as her marriage is unravelling, it’s obvious she has the hots for the manny. Of course, this book has been optioned by Hollywood.
Is the writing artful? Not especially. Are the characters credible? Ballpark. So what kept me reading? The digs, the sharp little takes on life in ‘The Grid’. Peterson knows these women, their clothes and lovers and restaurants.
And, better, Peterson knows what it’s like to be a mother and hurt for a wounded kid. I’m a sucker for stories in which a good woman must elude a bad man for the sake of her children. And for stories in which shallow guys get the shaft.
The ending of The Manny is silly – little Dylan may like the manny more than he likes dad, but when Jamie takes her brood to a new life downtown, she and her kids are simply going to find a fresh kind of shallowness among the loft-dwellers. And don’t think this kind of status-seeking is unique to New Yorkers who live in ‘The Grid’. It’s just magnified there. You’ll find the essential dynamic, striving and preening, even in trailer parks.
But we’re not in a trailer park. We’re on Park Avenue. And that makes all the difference. What fools these people are! And how much do we love that! Yes, you may sneer at The Manny, but not before you turn it into a guilty pleasure.
To buy The Manny from Amazon.com, click here.
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