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01May

Practically perfect? How a new kind of nanny novel nails parents’ angst and anger

Class, race, politics and power are at the heart of modern nanny novels that explore the complex relationship between working mothers and the women they pay to look after their children

There’s a line at the opening of Kiley Reid’s hit debut, Such a Fun Age, that encapsulates the drama at the heart of the recent spate of nanny novels. Emira, a young black woman dressed for a night out, is stopped by a security guard in an upscale supermarket with Briar, the white child she looks after. It’s late, the guard wants to know where Briar’s parents are. He won’t let Emira leave with her. “But she’s my child right now,” she tells the guard. “I’m her sitter. I’m technically her nanny …”

Emira isn’t strictly a nanny. She doesn’t get the perks of a full-time job – health insurance, holidays. Later, she reflects that, “more than the racial bias, the night at Market Depot came back to her with a nauseating surge and a resounding declaration that hissed, You don’t have a real job.” But in many ways, Briar is her child. Emira is the one who spends time with Briar, who understands her. Alix, a blogger and influencer, relies on her daughter’s nanny completely, but she is also desperate to befriend “the quiet, thoughtful person she paid to love [Briar]”. In pursuing a friendship with Emira at the expense of her own children, Alix only succeeds in putting further distance between them. As Emira reflects, Briar is “this awesome, serious child who loves information and answers, and how could her own mother not appreciate the shit out of this?”

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