Happiness

The Books Briefing: Curtis Sittenfeld, Megan Stack

When Marion Crawford, the nanny for then-Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, printed a delicate, ghostwritten memoir within the Nineteen Fifties about her life with the royals, it was an instantaneous sensation. The ebook, “novelistic and carefully plotted,” as my colleague Caitlin Flanagan famous in 2006, cataloged all of the sorts of particulars which may captivate an outsider: “of dress and of food and of housekeeping on the grandest level imaginable,” she wrote. After Crawford printed the ebook with out the royal household’s permission, they ostracized their former caregiver—who appeared to genuinely look after her fees—for the remainder of her life.

Voyeurism apart, there’s a purpose readers are fascinated by nannies, and why a author might discover them the proper protagonist. A nanny is totally immersed in probably the most intimate particulars of a household’s life, but retains an outsider’s perspective. The success of Crawford’s ebook, Flanagan famous, spawned one thing of a micro-genre: the nanny confessional. Its entries embrace Maud Shaw’s admiring observations of the Kennedy dynasty in White House Nannie and gossipy revenge works, similar to Suzanne Hansen’s You’ll Never Nanny in This Town Again. And from the opposite facet of the employee-employer relationship, in Women’s Work, the journalist Megan Stack examines the uneasy ethics of advancing in a profession because of the overwhelmingly feminine domestic-worker financial system.

That form of fraught relationship is the main target of Kiley Reid’s novel, Such a Fun Age. Seeking to light up the “everyday domestic biases that we don’t even know we have,” as Reid has put it, she writes a couple of white, upper-middle-class mother’s awkward makes an attempt to attach together with her Black 25-year-old part-time babysitter. In The Perfect Nanny, the writer Leïla Slimani flips the script, exploring a pair’s deepest insecurities by way of their relationship with their nanny. In Curtis Sittenfeld’s quick story “The Richest Babysitter in the World,” a younger lady works for a rich couple, then watches them rise to world fame a long time later. “Are the Woleys good and bad in the same proportions that I am,” she wonders, “but the vastness of their wealth makes the consequences of their choices more dramatic?” It’s a curious factor: Even although a nanny features as a part of the household, the underlying stress and vulnerability in her relationship together with her employers typically drives a plot.

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What We’re Reading

A scribbled portrait of Marion Crawford

Oliver Munday / The Atlantic

How to deal with the assistance?

“Hansen’s book falls squarely into an established, if minor, literary genre: the nanny confessional … The success of [Marion Crawford’s]The Little Princesses was sufficient to give publishers the impetus for producing another book of its kind. There was no shortage of former nannies willing to spill the beans for a price; the problem was locating a set of charges who were already the objects of tremendous public affection and whose daily routines were conducted within the framework of historic events of international consequence.”


Silhouettes of two children and an adult holding their hands, walking on a brick road

Oliver Lang / AFP / Getty

The eerie horrors of The Perfect Nanny

“Slimani is preoccupied by the paradoxes of parenting in a world where the potential for disaster abounds. When it comes to the safety of their children, Myriam and Paul are at once irrationally scared and naively—tragically—self-assured, invested in their own power to maintain control.”


Kiley Reid

David Goddard

Such a Fun Age satirizes the white pursuit of wokeness

“Any good comedy is about subverting expectations, and this ominous, all-too-familiar instance of racial profiling gives way to a funny, fast-paced social satire about privilege in America, and about, as Reid said … the ‘everyday domestic biases that we don’t even know we have.’”


A tricycle in front of a home

William Eggleston / Courtesy of the Eggleston Artistic Trust and David Zwirner

The Richest Babysitter in the World

“The lesson I thought I’d gleaned from the Woleys—because I was still then a person who believed that situations provided lessons, rather than just marking the passage of time—was that two smart, dorky adults could join together and make a family, a sweet life.”


Two women sit on the ground, with their backs to the camera, looking off into the horizon. A black stroller is next to one woman, and the other is holding a child.

Felipe Dana / AP

How home staff allow well-off girls to prosper

“I moved pretty thoughtlessly into having a woman come into my home and work full-time. But very quickly, I started to experience things that surprised me. The emotional components of trust, love, and jealousy, the attempt to turn a household into a job site, and the way that intersects with power imbalances of money and race … I hadn’t anticipated it. The more I adjusted to being a mother, the more uncomfortable I was, because I was looking at my nanny and thinking, She’s a mother, too. Who’s taking care of her baby?


About us: This week’s e-newsletter is written by Mary Stachyra Lopez. The ebook she’s listening to subsequent is The Art of Letting Go, by Richard Rohr.

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