Book Review: My New American Life by Francine Prose

Title: My New American Life
Author: Francine Prose
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher for a tour with TLC Book Tours
First line: The day after Lula’s lawyer called to tell her she was legal, three Albanian guys showed up in a brand-new black Lexus SUV.

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 as caretaker to Zeke, a rebellious high school senior in suburban New Jersey, it seems that the security, comfort, and happiness of the American dream may finally be within reach. Her new boss, Mister Stanley, an idealistic college professor turned Wall Street executive, assumes that Lula is a destitute refugee of the Balkan wars. He enlists his childhood friend Don Settebello, a hotshot lawyer who prides himself on defending political underdogs, to straighten out Lula’s legal situation. In true American fashion, everyone gets what he wants and feels good about it.

But things take a more sinister turn when Lula’s Albanian “brothers” show up in a brand-new black Lexus SUV. Hoodie, Leather Jacket, and the Cute One remind her that all Albanians are family, but what they ask of her is no small favor. Lula’s new American life suddenly becomes more complicated as she struggles to find her footing as a stranger in a strange new land. Is it possible that her new American life is not so different from her old Albanian one?

Have you ever come across an author whose non-fiction you love, but whose fiction leaves you cold? Or vice versa? After reading Goldengrove a few years ago, and now My New American Life, I’m beginning to think that Francine Prose is one of those authors for me. Her non-fiction work, Reading Like a Writer, is one of my favorite books of all time – and so I would expect to adore her fiction. The problem is that neither of these books met those expectations.

My New American Life has a great premise – young Albanian immigrant finally gets word that she is legal, and the next day three thugs from her mother country show up on her doorstep and ask her to do them a favor. An illegal favor. Lula is torn between her attraction to one of the Albanians and her desire to stay in the good graces of her employer, Mr. Stanley, and her attorney, Don.

The biggest problem for me wasn’t the writing, or the setting. The details were authentic, as was the description of the immigrant experience. My issue was with the characters. I simply didn’t care about a single one. And when you’re reading a book that is building suspense as to whether a character will get to keep her new American life, or whether she will lose it over something stupid – you need to care in order to want to keep reading. I didn’t. I did like it moderately enough to finish the book and find out how it ended, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be sticking to Prose’s non-fiction from now on.

This entry was posted in contemporary fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Book Review: My New American Life by Francine Prose

  1. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    The premise does sound good – sorry to see you didn’t love the book.

  2. irene says:

    sorry didn’t work for you

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Irene – I’ve had a great reading month, so no complaints. They can’t all be five-star reads!

  3. Arti
    Twitter: Arti_Ripples
    says:

    I’ve read Goldengrove and found it mediocre. Like you’re saying here, Prose hasn’t created characters whom I’d care for. As to Reading like a Writer, for some reasons, I just couldn’t get through it, maybe one day I’ll pick it up again. Your review just helped me to make easier decision in the future… there are just too many books and too little time. ;)

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Arti – I’ve had a similar experience with Michael Chabon. I loved his essay collection Maps and Legends, but was left cold by the two fiction works I’ve tried.

  4. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    I totally believe and agree that some authors are better suited for fiction or non-fiction but not necessarily both. I would imagine if I tried to write a book, I’d do much better with facts! Appreciate the honesty!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sandy – I’m too lazy to do the research required for non-fiction. Unless it was a memoir. Then maybe. :)

  5. Susan says:

    I guess she might be a hit and miss author. I liked her novel “Blue Angel” (2000) though maybe didnt love love it. From her bibliography I see she’s written nonfiction about Caravaggio and even Anne Frank. I wouldnt mind checking out those books … and the one you mention Reading Like a Writer …

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Susan – since I really enjoyed Reading Like a Writer, I’m very interested in reading her book on Anne Frank!

  6. Kailana says:

    There are several authors that I love their non-fiction but haven’t had much luck with their fiction yet, so I can relate! I have Prose’s non-fiction book on my TBR. I really should get to it!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kelly – If it’s Reading Like a Writer that you’re referring to, I think you would really enjoy it.

  7. Pingback: Francine Prose, author of My New American Life, on tour May 2012 | TLC Book Tours

  8. Darn, sounds like this one wasn’t a good fit for you. Still, thanks for sharing your thoughts for the tour!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Heather – no problem, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. :)

  9. Pingback: TLC Book Tours: My New American Life « ReviewsbyLola's Blog

  10. Pingback: My New American Life – Francine Prose « Iwriteinbooks's Blog

  11. Pingback: #433 ~ My New American Life

  12. Michelle says:

    This one left me feeling meh too. I thought it was just me. Sorry that it didn’t work out for you, but you have me very curious about her nonfiction now.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Michelle – you should definitely try Reading Like a Writer!

  13. Pingback: The Sunday Salon – June 3, 2012 | BOOKS AND MOVIES