My Hollywood by Mona Simpson
I read Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here in high school. Since then, I have been under the impression that I hated it. I remember underlining sentences, but I didn't want to keep the book on my shelf (a big part of the reason was probably that it was a movie tie-in cover, and that I am a snob). 'That mother,' was all I could think; I just hated that mother (if you've read the book, you know what I mean-- she is manipulative and controlling and can't keep her promises). It wasn't until recently that I realized the fact that I hated that mother, that I so identified with and understood the daughter, meant that the book was a success. That I felt like I couldn't keep it on my shelf didn't mean it wasn't good, it meant that it was so well done that I believed it. It worked.
Mona Simpson's latest book, My Hollywood also worked. But unlike Adele in Anywhere But Here, I loved Lola and Claire in My Hollywood. They are the type of characters that you keep on hearing in your head, that are so real you almost feel like you created them, that make you feel you're the only one who really knows them. Lola and Claire live in LA in the latter part of the 20th century. Lola is a woman from the Philippines who is working as a nanny to pay for her children's college educations. When we meet her, she is on the last leg-- her youngest daughter is in medical school. She doesn't resent having to do this-- her children are her whole life, and this is just what a mother does for her children, to give them the best chance. Claire is the woman who hires her to take care of William who is told that, in LA, hiring a nanny is just what a mother does for her children, to give them the best chance. My Hollywood is about motherhood and surrogate motherhood; it's about LA and the TV business and the futility and hopelessness that exist side by side with comedy; it's about falling in love and failing at it and falling in love again. It's about the balance between your work and your life, between what you expect to happen and what really happens, between yourself and everyone else.
Simpson is a challenging writer. She asks you to understand her characters on the same level that she does. You're given the clues; you make the character yourself. This is the most powerful type of fiction, when a writer trusts her reader to create and love her characters as much as she does, but doesn't make it easy.