TWO CHARACTERS JOSTLE for the proprietary perspective implied by the title of Mona Simpson's new novel My Hollywood: Claire, a cellist whose career has been backburnered as her husband tries to make it as a TV writer; and Claire's Filipina maid, Lola, charged with helping Claire raise her young son.
My Hollywood opens with Claire and her soon-to-be husband Paul agreeing that parenting duties should be shared equally between partners. The rest of the book chronicles the gradual erosion of that agreement—as Paul works longer and longer days, Claire finds herself essentially co-parenting with her nanny. Lola, meanwhile, is part of an extensive, tight-knit network of foreign nannies, many of them struggling to remain connected to their own families as they spend their working days raising other people's kids.
Simpson's writing is trenchant and never panders—from the attachments that form (and dissolve) between nannies and their charges, to the entertainment industry's caste systems, to the black market in undocumented domestic workers, her excavation of Hollywood's densely packed social strata is structurally elegant and emotionally perceptive. The overarching focus is less on domesticity than on various forms of labor and how they are valued, and how relationships suffer or thrive as a result.