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Lula, a 26-year-old immigrant, is living the American dream. At least, she thinks she is. She's not sure. All she knows is that her new life in the U.S. beats her old one in Albania any day. In fact, Lula's got a lot to be grateful for: she lives in a wealthy New Jersey suburb; she earns money by looking after a 16-year-old boy who really doesn't need a babysitter; and thanks to her employer, the kind Mister Stanley, she's now legally able to stay in the country. She really can't complain about it all, even if her new American life is a little bit dull.
That all changes when three Albanian men come knocking, asking Lula to do her "brothers" a dangerous favor. Lula knows she shouldn't oblige them, but she's been waiting for a little excitement and here it is. Plus, there's Alvo. He's good-looking and seems as interested in Lula as she is in him. So what if he runs with a sketchy crowd? She wanted a thrill—now she's getting one. But, as things get complicated not just with her new "brothers," but also with Mr. Stanley's family, Lula must decide where her loyalties really lie. What does she owe her countrymen? Her employer? Herself? Who is she and what does being an American really mean?
The ho-hum plot summary above reflects my disappointment in Francine Prose's latest novel, My New American Life. As you can probably tell, it's not big on plot. Which wouldn't have been a huge problem if the author had managed to make me care about the characters in the story. Didn't happen. Why not? Well, none of them are particularly likable, least of all our heroine. Lula lies to the people who have been kindest to her, disregards all of her employer's rules, and selfishly puts an already hurting family in jeopardy to satisfy her own lustful urges. Annoying. The rest of the cast irritated me, as did the story itself, which just got duller and more depressing as it prattles onward. Without an interesting plot or engaging characters, this book just kind of goes nowhere. It's not that Prose doesn't write well—she does—it's just that I didn't connect with My New American Life at all. If I hadn't promised to review it, I wouldn't have bothered to finish it.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, depictions of underrage drinking and sexual content