Author: Francine Prose
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: general fiction
Source: Thank you to TLC Book Tours and Harper Perennial for the complimentary copy of My New American Life. The opinions expressed in this review are my own, uninfluenced by receipt of a complimentary copy of this novel.
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 caring for a rebellious high schooler in wealthy, suburban New Jersey, it seems that the American dream may finally be within reach. But things take a sinister turn when Lula’s Albanian “brothers” show up in a black SUV to remind her that all Albanians are family—and that Lula’s family has a very serious favor to ask.
Set in the aftermath of 9/11, My New American Life offers a biting and darkly humorous portrait of an era when dreams and ideals began to give way to cynicism, fear, and still-resonating questions about what it means to be an American.
The premise of the story, that of a young Albanian woman working to make her way in a new world, is interesting fodder. The reader becomes acquainted with customs, some of which carry forward in Lula's new home and influence Zeke to an extent, helping him become a more rounded individual under her tutelage. The one thing which Lula struggles with throughout the novel is her penchant for the bad boy. Such a man announces himself on her doorstep as one of three "brothers" to whom she may or may not be distantly related. I could see right away that these men were trouble but just the thought of adventure combined with Lulu's attraction to one of the men, causes her to make some irrational decisions, including hiding a gun, which we find later was loaded, in her home, which is also the home of her employer, Mr. Stanley, and his son.
As the story develops, this character flaw of Lulu's, her leaning towards danger and the mysterious good looking man, takes her on a perilous journey of lies, deceit, and conspiracy. As is so often the case, the reader foresees the peril, but Lulu doesn't. She's just along for the adventure.
I hate giving bad reviews but My New American Life just didn't do it for me. It was well-written and the premise of My New American Life had so much potential for a thrilling mysterious story, but I found it unfulfilling. I really didn't like the main character. I'm not sure Lulu learned from her lack of judgment and errors, but it is difficult to empathize with a protagonist who fantasizes about a shady character and makes irrational decisions based on these fantasies. She's attractive and she knows it and seems to think all men she comes in contact with "want" her. Lulu seems to have no moral compass nor real integrity as evidenced in her decisions and actions. Her choices put herself and the family she works for in mortal danger, and it is hard to see past that. Not my favourite this year. Just ok.
Meet the author:
Francine Prose is the author of many bestselling books of fiction, including A Changed Man and Blue Angel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and the nonfictionNew York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. Her novel,Household Saints, was adapted for a movie by Nancy Savoca. Another novel, The Glorious Ones, has been adapted into a musical of the same name by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, which ran at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center in New York City in the Fall of 2007. Her latest novel, Goldengrove, was published in September 2008. She is the president of PEN American Center. She lives in New York City.