Claire, a composer and a new mother, has moved to Los Angeles so that her husband can follow his passion for writing television comedy. Suddenly the marriage—once a genuine 50/50 arrangement—changes, with Paul working late and Claire left at home with baby William, whom she adores but has no idea how to care for.
She hires Lola, a fifty-two-year-old mother of five, who is working in America to pay for her own children’s higher education back in the Philippines. Lola stabilizes the rocky household, and soon other parents try to lure her away. But what she sacrifices to stay with Claire and “Williamo” remains her own closely guarded secret.
Excerpted from My Hollywood by Mona Simpson. Copyright © 2010 by Mona Simpson. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Mona Simpson is the author of Anywhere But Here, The Lost Father, A Regular Guy, Off Keck Road, and My Hollywood. Off Keck Road won the Heartland Prize from the Chicago Tribune and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She has received a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim grant, a Lila Wallace Readers Digest Writers’ Award, and, recently, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Simpson is on the faculty at UCLA and also teaches at Bard College.
“Beautifully realized. . . . One of the most insightful books in years about contemporary American life.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Simpson works habitual magic, showing how love travels, ownerless and unbidden.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Heart-wrenching. . . . This is a domestic novel and a highly political one.” —Time
“Simpson is a virtuoso. . . . Expansive and original.” —The Boston Globe
“[A] wise . . . haunting novel.” —People
“A double-Dutch game of masterful writing. . . . Won’t easily fade from anyone’s mind.” —Entertainment Weekly
“In Mona Simpson’s new novel about a modern marriage and its discontents, the saga of its Filipina domestic sketches a new variation on the American dream. . . . An intimate, ironic tale.” —Elle
“Wondrous work. . . . Painfully real and moving and funny.” —The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“This is classic Simpson. . . . The most serious and potent truths are told.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“An absorbing novel. . . . With her incisive portrayal of the frustrations felt by working parents, My Hollywood could easily be Our Country.” —The Washington Post Book World
“It takes a very subtle, sophisticated and confident writer to make our most common problems come off as unique on the page as they feel at 3 in the morning. If anyone can do it, Mona Simpson can. And does. But there’s more.” —Los Angeles Times
“Simpson’s massive gifts—for unflinching precision, for artful indirection and for the deft unfurling of imagery—are on vivid display in My Hollywood, a book that carries us down deep, into the darkness of two distinct worlds, and lights them up, finding all the comedy in the ways they are the same world, and all the tragedy in the unbridgeable distance between them.” —Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
“Simpson’s novel shows the intricacies and inequities of domestic politics. . . . My Hollywood is a smart, topical, absorbing novel.” — Kansas City Star
“The Hollywood so devastatingly rendered in Mona Simpson’s new novel is a different universe from the world-famous well-spring of movie magic. . . . Alternately satiric and poignant.” —The Miami Herald
“[Simpson] takes us inside what once was called the heart-chamber of the world. The walls of the chamber are touched by beauty, but it echoes with the plangent sounds of love lost, love damaged, love unrequited; and with the sadness of those sighs are the music of a love unfound.” —The Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A darkly beautiful atlas of the American promised land, and a definitive novel of modern domesticity. Brilliant, in short.” —Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland
“[In] My Hollywood, Mona Simpson gives Westside nannies a voice, and her name is Lola.” —LA Magazine
“Simpson treats both main characters with respect, allowing truth and cool humor to emerge from the contrast between the ways they see their shared lives.” —The Columbus Dispatch
“Her prose is gentle but leaves a savage trail of insights.” —Time
“Heartbreaking. . . . The real star of this richly imagined novel is an immigrant with a shrewd eye, a kind heart and lots to tell about love, marriage and bringing up baby.” —The Toronto Star
“Smart, endearing, and bittersweet. . . . Simpson shows us how the intimate politics of mother and nanny have nothing to do with who is paying who[m.” —The Jewish Journal
“An honest and poetic exploration of why caring for a child—whether by a mother or a nanny—still just can’t get the respect or security it deserves.” —The Huffington Post
“In her gradually unfolding, finely tuned narrative, Simpson shows how, for many women, the nanny-mom relationship grows to be more intimate than marriage.” —NPR
“Simpson penetrates the layers of Filipino culture, parsing hairstyles, neighborhoods, and dialects. The resulting characters are rounded, real people. . . . Simpson’s writing is honed, precise, sharp as the inland heat.” — PopMatters.com
“Astute, clever, wide-ranging, sometimes funny, always sympathetic to the varieties of love and domesticity, My Hollywood will stay in the mind because it digs deep into contemporary life and manners, raising questions about how we live and what we need.” —The Washington Times
“[A] novel of manners about modern motherhood. . . . Highlights clashes of culture and class.” —The New Yorker
“One more time, Mona Simpson has burrowed deep into the American family to extract the shivering truth about the many trade-offs women face in raising children today. . . . My Hollywood is vast in scope, exquisite in detail, rife with pleasures.” —Michelle Huneven, author of Blame
“Hilarious and heartbreaking.” —Marie Claire
“Simpson deploys a sharp eye and mordant wit to show us the backstairs view of a Hollywood we’ve never seen. . . . The novel your best friend won’t lend you.” —More
“Simpson skillfully manages to move us with the two women’s emotions even as she surrounds them with wicked satire. . . . Slyly funny.” —The Seattle Times
1. The novel opens with Claire recalling her first date with Paul and their agreement that for a modern couple child rearing would have to be “fifty-fifty.” Why doesn’t this work out for them?
2. Are you a parent yourself? How do you relate to Claire’s complicated feelings about motherhood?
3. Why does Claire bring Lola along to care for Will in New York, even though it means she’ll lose money on the trip?
4. Which has more of an effect on the parent-nanny relationships in the novel—race or class? Why? How does it work both ways?
5. Would this novel be different if Lola were a white American nanny?
6. Discuss the way Simpson plays with time. Why is the novel set in the 1990s? How does Simpson use foreshadowing and flash-forwards?
7. When it comes to the children, who has the most power in this novel, the parent or the nanny?
8. What is the role of fatherhood in this novel?
9. What is the significance of The Book of Ruth? Why do the nannies write in it?
10. Is Simpson’s novel at all similar to The Book of Ruth?
11. How does Claire’s relationship with her own mother influence her parenting? Does her childhood make her a better parent?
12. Lola left her own children to earn money by raising other people’s kids. Does this make her a bad mother?
13. How do you think Lola’s children will turn out? Do you think they’ll have emotional scars from her years away from them?
14. Why does Lola turn down Helen and Jeff’s job offer? Why doesn’t she mention it to Claire and Paul?
15. Discuss gender roles as presented in the novel. How does being male or female affect the characters’ lives?
16. Which man is a better husband and father—Paul or Jeff? Why?
17. In what ways are Claire’s and Lola’s marriages similar?
18. Examine the relationship between Lola and Lucy. Why does Lola do so much for this young woman?
19. Reread and discuss the scene in which China drowns (page 246). Who is responsible? What do we learn about the nannies from this episode?
20. Does Claire feel there is a distinction between her career and her music? Which is central to her?
21. Which character has the most regrets? Are there any central characters who have none?
22. What is the significance of the Neruda poem on page 349? What is Judith’s intention in giving Lola this poem?
23. Why does Lola return to the Philippines? What does she imagine her life will be like there?
24. What was your first thought about Claire’s surprise visit to Tagaytay? Why do you think she decided to go?
25. Discuss Lola’s final chapter. Do you think she’s happy in the end?
26. This novel examines the famous Beatles line “Money can’t buy me love.” In a sense, Paul and Claire try to buy love for their son. Do you think love can be bought and sold?
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