Dear Ms. Dee,
I enjoyed your book New Life and the premise of this book intrigued me so I volunteered to review it. Unfortunately, The Au Pair Affair did not have the easy flow or the charm of the earlier book.
Hollywood producer Dan Krefman and his ex-wife, actress Crissi Jondalar have two children (Cara, 5 and Liam, 3). They hire former actor Louis Guzman to be the children’s nanny after a surprisingly short interview process and a scant background check. The reader knows from the beginning that Louis has something he wants to hide in his work history. Something that, had the nanny agency known, it would not have recommended him. He has no experience and no qualifications in child care, merely a personal history of growing up in foster care and babysitting foster brothers and sisters. I found it difficult to believe a celebrity couple would hire Louis in the first place, but especially not without extensive background checks.
Dan and Crissi were married for 6 years but after Dan realised he was gay and came out to Crissi, they divorced. They remain on very good terms and share custody of the children, with Louis moving between houses to be wherever the children are. I did appreciate that Crissi was presented as a good mother and a fairly sympathetic character. However, Dan rides roughshod over Crissi a number of times in the book – showing repeated poor judgement of such things as how to tell the children he and Louis are an item – and he often thinks that Crissi is high maintenance and a bit of a drama queen. I think Crissi was a saint (Dan came out to her on their anniversary) and far too forgiving of both Dan and Louis.
Since the divorce, Dan has had a few sexual encounters but no relationships. He is instantly attracted to Louis and the feeling is mutual. Though both Dan and Louis note the inherent difficulties in pursuing their attraction given the employer/employee relationship, I felt that it was more lip service than any real consideration and, when it came down to it, there was little by way of hesitation.
The story was written in short choppy sentences which felt more like an outline or summary a lot of the time. The detail I wanted, which would have made the characters more real and added the charm I was hoping for, was missing.
Dan had hired caterers, and the backyard was decorated with Chinese lanterns, balloons and streamers. Burgers and massive quantities of sugar in the form of soda and ice-cream cake were ingested, and then Cara opened presents. Screaming girls raced over the lawn as they played games. Before the celebration was over, there was an inevitable fight. Names were called, tears shed, and finally everyone went home with party favors.
The whole book was like this
There were a number of little storylines which didn’t seem to go anywhere. Liam at age 3, while very fond of show tunes, barely spoke, and at various times in the book all three adults felt concerned that he may have some kind of developmental disability. But he was talking well by the end of the book without anything really happening. Cara was unhappy at pre-school, Crissi having been unable to pry out why. Eventually Cara confesses to Dan that there were two girls being mean to her. Dan’s advice was to “be nice” to the girls and they might turn out to be friends. And lo, a few pages later, they were friends. Leaving aside what I thought was pretty ordinary advice – why not at least talk to the pre-school teacher? Cara had been miserable for weeks and weeks – it didn’t go anywhere as a plot point. I think those things were there to round out the story and give depth to the characters but unfortunately, on me, it had the opposite effect.
I didn’t see any meaningful relationship develop between Dan and Louis. They had the hots for each other but their first sexual encounter pre-dates almost any meaningful conversation – which didn’t make sense given their professional relationship and how much Louis wants to keep his job. Dan, too, doesn’t want to lose “the best nanny the kids have ever had.” So it was a surprise that even as Dan was thinking getting intimate in the driveway of his house was a bad idea (as private as his front yard was), he doesn’t take any convincing at all to let Louis open his pants and give him a blowjob against the car. Afterwards, their entire discussion about sexual health consists of:
He let Dan’s length slip from between his lips and wiped the back of his hand over his mouth. “Don’t worry. I’m clean. I can show you my most recent test results. I trust you are too.”
There was a lot of telling not showing. I didn’t feel the connection between Dan and Louis. I didn’t see Louis and Crissi develop the deep friendship I was told they had. I didn’t see the leap from “employee” to “friend” in either case. I did see Louis and the children interact and I did believe his love for them and theirs for him was genuine but overall, I found the story lacked detail and character development.
There was also this surprising passage later in the book.
Chest heaving, Dan glanced down at the messy aftermath of breathtaking ecstasy. He thought about his children’s lives, once contained in a blot of semen like the one on his belly. So weird that two lives existed because of it, and so strange that his desires ran contrary to the design of life.
“Thinking deep thoughts?” Louis rasped near his ear and clipped Dan’s lobe between his teeth.
“Just pondering spunk.”
“What it’s meant for and how we pervert that. I don’t mean that in a negative way, I swear, but the stuff is meant to propagate the species.”
I was a bit gobsmacked by that. It was just all kinds of wrong. I was uncomfortable with the way homosexuality was portrayed in the book – from the way Louis “looked gay” to how Liam likes to sing “Over the Rainbow”. This just capped it for me.
I also got tired of Louis constantly banging on about how child rearing was a noble and fulfilling role. I mean, it is, but the numerous times it was mentioned in the story made it feel like it was a message.
It might seem like a limited dream by many peoples’ standards, as if not craving a career meant he had no ambition, but what could possibly be more important than making sure children lived a happy life?
Childcare is not the only important or valuable thing someone can do.
Louis confesses quite early to Dan (but after he was hired) that his previous work history included exotic dancing. It is not hard to guess what other work history Louis had in his brief acting career and, given the celebrity nature of his employers, what happens vis-a-vis that history. Though, I was never concerned regarding the welfare of the children, Louis did lie on his employment application about something significant – but instead of getting fired (as he deserved) all was smoothed over and solved within a few pages by the power of lurrrve.
What started out as an interesting premise never got any further for me, the conflict was predictable and the characters under-developed. I give The Au Pair Affair a D.