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MY NEW AMERICAN LIFE by Francine Prose


by Francine Prose

Pub Date: April 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-171376-7
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Versatile novelist/essayist/biographer Prose (Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, 2009, etc.) views post-9/11 America through the sardonic eyes of an Albanian immigrant.

An ad on Craigslist led Lula to a cushy live-in job in suburban New Jersey keeping an eye on high-school senior Zeke while his father makes a bundle on Wall Street. And Mister Stanley, as Lula calls him, even got his friend, hotshot immigration lawyer Don Settebello, to arrange a work visa. So it’s a bit awkward in October 2005 when three fellow Albanians show up in a Lexus SUV and ask her to hide a gun for them. Why does Lula do it? Truth is, she’s a bit bored by her “new American life,” as Don keeps calling it. Making sure Zeke eats, sleeps and does his homework doesn’t take much time; conning Mister Stanley and Don with stories about blood feuds and bride-kidnapping in Albania (most of them plagiarized from folklore or based on family incidents from 100 years ago) is almost too easy. Besides, Alvo, chief of the Lexus-driving crew, is awfully cute, and Lula is lonely. She knows so much more than these liberal, well-meaning Americans; when Don agonizes over what he’s seen at Guantánamo and how little he can do for his clients there, she shrugs, “very Balkan…that’s what happens…human nature.” Lula’s observations of the affluent U.S. are funny, but Prose’s targets are rather obvious: Mister Stanley’s estranged wife is a loony New Ager making a tour of Native American spiritual sites; indifferent student Zeke gets into college only because the place that accepts him is desperate for applicants after a shooting incident (“it’s always the science students,” remarks a professor), etc. The story is agreeable without being terribly eventful or making much of an impact, emotional or otherwise.

Intelligence, wit and an engaging heroine can’t quite disguise the fact that there’s not much actually happening here.