The Book Briefing: Curtis Sittenfeld, Megan Stack

When Marion Crawford, nanny to then-Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, published a sweet ghost-written memoir about her life with the Royal Family in the 1950s, it was an instant sensation. The book, “romantic and carefully plotted”, as my colleague Caitlin Flanagan noted in 2006, cataloged all sorts of details that might captivate a stranger: “from the highest level of clothing, food and housekeeping imaginable,” she wrote. After Crawford published the book without permission from the royal family, they ostracized their former caregiver– who seemed to really care about his charges – for the rest of his life.

Voyeurism aside, there’s a reason why readers are fascinated by nannies and why a writer may find them the perfect protagonist. A nanny is completely immersed in the most intimate details of a family’s life, while maintaining an outsider’s point of view. The success of Crawford’s book, Flanagan noted, spawned something of a microgenre: the nanny confessional. Its entries include Maud Shaw’s admiring observations of the Kennedy dynasty in White House Nanny and gossip revenge works, such as Suzanne Hansen You’ll never be a nanny again in this town. And on the other side of the employee-employer relationship, in Women’s workjournalist Megan Stack examines the difficult ethics of advancing in a career thanks to the overwhelming female majority domestical economy.

This kind of strained relationship is at the center of Kiley Reid’s novel, Such a fun age. Seeking to enlighten the “everyday domestic biases we don’t even know we have,” as Reid put it, she writes about an upper-middle-class white mother’s clumsy attempts to connect with her 25-year-old black babysitter years part-time. In The perfect nanny, author Leïla Slimani flips the script, exploring a couple’s deepest insecurities through their relationship with their nanny. In Curtis Sittenfeld’s short story “The World’s Richest Babysitter,” a young woman works for a wealthy couple, then watches them rise to fame decades later. “Are the Woleys good and bad in the same proportions as I am,” she wonders, “but the immensity of their wealth makes the consequences of their choices more dramatic? It’s a curious thing: even though a nanny is part of the family, the underlying tension and vulnerability in her relationship with her employers often leads to conspiracy.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we continue Atlantic stories about books that share similar ideas. Do you know other book lovers who might like this guide? Forward this email to them.

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What we read

Oliver Munday / The Atlantic

How to treat help?

“Hansen’s book falls squarely into an established, albeit minor, literary genre: the nanny confessional… The success of [Marion Crawford’s]The little princesses was enough to give publishers the impetus to produce another such book. There was no shortage of former nannies willing to spill the wick for a price; the problem was to locate a set of accusations that were already the subject of enormous public affection and whose daily routines unfolded within the framework of historical events of international significance.

Silhouettes of two children and an adult holding hands, walking on a brick road

Olivier Lang/AFP/Getty

The horrible horrors of The perfect nanny

“Slimani is concerned with the paradoxes of parenthood in a world where the potential for catastrophe abounds. When it comes to the safety of their children, Miriam and Paul are both irrationally fearful and naively – tragically – self-assured, invested in their own power to stay in control.

Kiley Reid

David Godard

Such a fun age satirizes the white pursuit of awakening

“All good comedy is about subverting expectations, and this disturbing, all-too-familiar example of racial profiling gives way to a fun, fast-paced social satire about privilege in America and about, as Reid put it…”prejudice.” daily servants” that we don’t even know we have.

A tricycle in front of a house

William Eggleston / Courtesy of Eggleston Artistic Trust and David Zwirner

The richest babysitter in the world

“The lesson I thought I learned from the Woleys – because I was still then a person who believed that situations provided lessons, rather than just marking the passage of time – was that two smart, dumb adults could get together and start a family. , a sweet life.

📚 “The richest babysitter in the world”, by Curtis Sittenfeld

Two women seated on the ground, their backs to the camera, look at the horizon.  A black stroller is next to a woman, and the other is holding a child.

Felipe Dana/AP

How domestic workers enable wealthy women to thrive

“I decided to bring a woman into my house and work full-time quite recklessly. But very quickly, I began to experience things that surprised me. The emotional components of trust, love and jealousy, the attempt to turn a house into a building site, and how that intersects with the power imbalances of money and race… I hadn’t not anticipated. The more I got used to being a mother, the more uncomfortable I became, because I looked at my nanny and thought, She’s also a mother. Who takes care of her baby?

About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Mary Stachyra Lopez. The book she listens to next is The art of letting go by Richard Rohr.

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