978-0-670-91080-9 / 0670910805

A Perfect Arrangement

by BERNE, Suzanne

Publisher:Algonquin Books



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About the book:

The set up for Suzanne Berne's second novel sounds positively Gothic: Mirella and Howard--she a lawyer, he an architect--desperately need a nanny to care for their two small children. Without carefully checking her references, they welcome the cozy-seeming Randi into their creaky Colonial saltbox. At first the arrangement does seem perfect: Randi cooks, cleans and works wonders with the heretofore recalcitrant children. But it becomes slowly clear that her sunny, reliable temperament might be cloaking a darker past. In elegant, sometimes quite funny prose, Berne cleverly readies the reader for domestic atrocities in the gruesome tradition of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Then she subverts our expectations by showing that Mirella and Howard have their secrets, too--quiet compromises they've made to achieve their ideal home. The reader keeps waiting for the Nanny Horror Show to begin, and meanwhile Berne shows a family falling apart under the pressure of trying to appear perfect. "Disaster could be small and dull and corrosive," she writes. "It might already have come."

To up the ante, Berne has installed her domestic melange in a charming New England town, where Main Street is populated by quaint shops and unsightly necessities (such as, say, the grocery store) are relegated to the hinterlands. Inhabiting the equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting, each character is further pressed to idealise the notion of family; each has a distinctive mental of what a home should look like. Anger and frustration and failure are suppressed until they surface in horrible, comic eruptions. Thus do Berne's characters ultimately learn to appreciate the "terrible, desirable, exhausting plenitude" of life. Admirers of Joanna Trollope's domestic dramas--by turns witty and harrowing--should find much to love in A Perfect Arrangement. --Claire Dederer,

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