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.