Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Book Review: My New American Life by Francine Prose

I'm usually not one to start book reviews with the synopsis from the back of the book, but when it comes to My New American Life by Francine Prose, I almost feel like I have no other choice.

Lula, a twenty-six-year-old Albanian woman living surreptitiously in New York City on an expiring tourist visa, hopes to make a better life for herself in America. When she lands a job as caretaker to Zeke, a rebellious high school senior in suburban New Jersey, it seems that the security, comfort, and happiness of the American dream may finally be within reach. Her new boss, Mister Stanley, an idealistic college professor turned Wall Street executive, assumes that Lula is a destitute refugee of the Balkan wars. He enlists his childhood friend Don Settebello, a hotshot lawyer who prides himself on defending political underdogs, to straighten out Lula's legal situation. In true American fashion, everyone gets what he wants and feels good about it.

But things take a more sinister turn when Lula's Albanian "brothers" show up in a brand-new black Lexus SUV. Hoodie, Leather Jacket, and the Cute One remind her that all Albanians are family, but what they ask of her is no small favor. Lula's new American life suddenly becomes more complicated as she struggles to find her footing as a stranger in a strange new land. Is it possible that her new American life is not so different from her old Albanian one?

Set in the aftermath of 9/11, My New American Life offers a vivid, darkly humorous, bitingly real portrait of a particular moment in history, when a nation's dreams and ideals gave way to a culture of cynicism, lies, and fear. Beneath its high comic surface, the novel is a more serious consideration of immigration, of what it was like to live through the Bush-Cheney years, and of what it means to be an American.

When I finished reading the synopsis, all I could think was "...huh..." and I requested the book, but for the life of me, could not decide what kind of book would be showing up on my doorstep. Luckily, what showed up was a really amazing book.

I don't know about you, but the synopsis confused me, and in the same sense, it is hard to describe what "kind" of book this is. What I can tell you is that the writing is, without a doubt, superb. The characters are beautifully constructed. You will fall in love with the main character by the end of the first paragraph. You will think you know what is going on in the book, and then all of sudden you will get slapped in the face and you will love the shake-up. You will like this book.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the book is the darling eccentricity of the main character, Lula. Her stories about Communist Albania are sometimes true and sometimes complete fabrication. People tend to be more likely to believe the fabrications. She is a wonderful, lying, pessimistic, paranoid person who is also, somehow, pure of heart and the person you find yourself rooting for, no matter what.

After finishing the book, I read part of a review by Michael Dirda of The New York Times Review of Books that stated "With the possible exception of Joyce Carol Oates, there is no busier or more prolific woman of letters in twenty-first-century America than Francine Prose." I felt a little lame for never having heard of her before this after reading that description, but I am a little less connected to the literary world than I have been at other times in my life, so I am going to cut myself a break and do a little catch-up. In the past, I have read books and then said I was going to go out and read everything else by that particular author. Many times, this does not come to fruition, or does not happen for many years. In this case, I have already requested some of her fiction and non-fiction from my library (GoldengroveA Changed ManThe Lives of the Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired, and Blue Angel).

This book is like nothing I've read, and was truly fun to read. It was even one of those books where the last line of the book makes you smile and read it over and over again. I promise you won't be disappointed if you check out Francine Prose.

If you'd like to see what other bloggers on the tour had to say about this book, you can click HERE for the main schedule of reviews.

I was given a copy of this book by TLC Book Tours, but was not compensated in any way for this review. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really intrigued by that last line you mentioned - you've definitely got me wanting to read this one!

    Thanks for being on the tour.


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