Thursday, October 22, 2009

Build a Better Chick Lit: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries is a timeless tale of chick lit...ery. Our protagonist, an NYU psych major, goes to work for an Upper East Side (read: insane) family and learns a lesson...the lesson being that rich people with hired childcare are obnoxious snots. Which I already knew. (Hey, one of my high school yearbook jokes was "You know you're from _____ton if you fondly remember your darky nanny.")

Let's meet the cast of characters. FYI--this book is so incredibly paint by numbers. I see it less as fun lite poolside reading, and more as the template I'd suggest to anyone writing a chick lit book about a pretty, spunky everygirl who takes a job she hates while trying to woo the guy she likes with a hefty side of what passes for wit nowadays. First off, the characters aren't fleshed out people--they're archetypes. Most of them don't even have real names.

Meet the cast

We have Mrs. X, an uptight sour puss. She's a stay at home mom obsessed with getting her five year old son into the right kindergarten, into the right afterschool activities, and on the right playdates, yet who somehow spends less time with her kid than workaholics Miranda Hobbes or Murphy Brown. And she takes out all her frustrations--sexual and otherwise--on the help.
(Except Stepfordier.)

Our protagonist, Nanny. Yes, her name is actually Nanny. No, it doesn't make it better that her friends occasionally call her Nan.

The token love interest: Harvard Hottie. He's from Harvard. He's hot. What more could any woman want? Nanny meets him in the X's building. And yes, that's what Nanny refers to him as. H.H. for short.

Mr. X. Workaholic extreme, goes to any length not to hang out with family. See also: philandering douchebag.

Grayer Addison X. (Yay, a real name! I guess Emma and Nicola's editors thought naming him Baby Boy Doe was a bad idea.) He's five. His mom would probably sell him to the circus if Parenting magazine said it was a good idea, and his father has barely any idea he exists. I actually feel pretty sorry for him.

So, what else makes this book Chick Lit by Numbers? You can tell that the two authors (themselves former nannies and first time book writers) broke down what makes a book chick lit, diligently filled in scenes and characters, and voila--insta book. Here we go:

A hilariously embarrassing scene. Our heroine has to undergo some indignity. Bonus points if the sexy guy sees her. Think Bridget Jones's cellulite ridden ass bouncing up and down the fireman pole on TV for all to see. Or Jane Eyre's skirts blowing out in the wind exposing her petticoats while Mr. Rochester takes his daily constitutional in the garden. (What? You didn't read the unexpurgated Eyre?) In this case, Nanny has to accompany the X's to a work-related Halloween party to watch Greyer. Nanny and Greyer are both dressed as Teletubbies. Horror of horrors, Harvard Hottie sees Nanny in the elevator dressed as Tinky Winky.

A healthy dose of self deprecation. Chick lit chicks have made an art out of being confidently self-deprecating. Of course they're still white chicks with loving families, so a line like "I went back to my cardboard box under a bridge to whore myself out for a sandwich" is too deprecating. "I scanned the wardrobe of my three bedroom apartment wishing I didn't have so many cute outfits" is too confident. Nanny has rich parents, a grandmother who spoils her rotten, but lives in a sixth floor walk-up studio apartment that she shares with a bitchy flight attendant.

Of course, in my experience, the best way to make a girl likable but not too intimidating (at least according to my dear two dimensional friends) is her dress size. A size zero and she's too intimidating. Anything in the double digits and the reader feels too superior. But make her a pretty girl who's carrying a teensy bit too much fat (and who bitches about how orgasmic chocolate chocolate surprise is and how masochistic anyone who voluntarily uses the Stairmaster is) and she's every woman! And that is why they call it a perfect size six.

Evil employer. Employers in chick lit books about work are ruthless castrating bitch goddesses. For example, Mrs. X cares about getting her son into the perfect kindergarten, but has no idea he's even had the croup. The spunky heroine still goes to great lengths to defend her when push comes to shove. Whether it means hunting down lingerie that her boss's husband's left in the bedroom (yeah, I know, awkward), or running clear across Paris to let Nuclear Wintour know about a buy-out she's already aware of, our heroine endears herself to the reader by licking the hand that smacks her.

Protracted romance. There's got to be something inane keeping chick lit girl from the boy of her dreams. Anything from, "Um, I have to find myself, and get involved with art, and make out with the homosexual spaz who just came to town with his neurotic schizoid sister," or the fact that he thinks you wear snowman sweaters as a matter of course. In this case, it's H.H.'s idiot friends. After work one night, Nanny shows up at a bar to down a martini and internally kvetch, and winds up meeting H.H.'s high school friends who hit on her and ask her if being a nanny means she sleeps with her boss's husband.

Our angel wears Prada. Bourgeois sensibilities are the name of the game here. Whether she's Emma Bovary or Carrie Bradshaw, there's no ill (AIDS, ennui, a broken engagement) that an expensive garment won't cure. No matter how hideous the article of clothing, as long as it's stamped with a designer label, all is good. Even if she's a self professed smart girl who doesn't know an eyelash curler from a hole in the ground, when Pat Field breaks out the Chanel mink pashmina or the Burberry jumpsuit, it's on. And Nanny is no exception. When Mrs. X, the original Louis Vuitton mom, says she doesn't want a pair of silk lavender Prada heels, and tells Nanny she can have them, our little minx explodes: "PRADA! As in Madonna. As in Vogue. As in, watch me walk off in style..."

If you'd like to read this for yourself...well, clearly you haven't been paying close attention to this blog post. But hey, maybe you'll be able to churn out a book for yourself.