The stress in a modern-day marriage of opposites is exacerbated by the arrival of a seemingly perfect nanny—in a thought-provoking and accomplished second novel by the author of A Crime in the Neighborhood (1997).
Lawyer Mirella Cook-Goldman lives in the 350-year-old New England town of New Aylesbury with her architect husband, Howard, and their two small children, five-year-old Pearl and toddler Jacob. With a thriving and demanding practice, a long commute to Boston, a dreamy, unsuccessful husband, a contrary little girl, and a nontalking son morbidly attached to a feathered Indian headdress and a nest he’s created in the fireplace, Mirella is clearly overwhelmed. The family has been through two au pairs in as many years, so Randi Gill’s arrival is cause for celebration. At first Randi seems to the Cook-Goldmans to be what every 21st-century nuclear family needs: a wife. Under her tutelage, Jacob begins to speak, Pearl becomes complacent and cooperative, the kitchen smells of freshly baked cookies. But Berne skillfully sets up an atmosphere of unease by giving Randi her own chapters, told in the first person from her perspective, that reveal her troubled past and disturbing desire to insinuate herself into the family. Neither parent is paying much attention: Howard grapples with a controversial town project and the reappearance of a young colleague with whom he had a brief affair, while Mirella guiltily harbors a secret pregnancy. But then Howard’s old flame exposes their indiscretion, discrediting him at a town meeting, and Mirella discovers that her baby is actually twin boys. “I guess we need to circle the wagons,” Howard concludes, and as the bricks start tumbling down, the process of rebuilding family life begins.
A literate and intelligent spin on the evil nanny story.