“…but it’s not like I read Harlequins.” Does this rationalization of reading tastes sound familiar? If so, join me, your sister in shameful snobbery, for a slice of humble pie over Judith Stacy’s new novel, The Nanny - one of the most entertaining and sweetly satisfying tales I’ve had the pleasure to encounter in recent months.
Annie Martin wants to make money to fund her younger sister’s education. Unfortunately, due to the spreading scandal of her other sister’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy, employment opportunities are limited. Thus she’s grateful for the job she gets as a gardener at the estate of the richest man in town, even if it means playing target for his children’s slingshot.
Josh Ingalls is recently widowed, ridiculously handsome and highly uninterested in remarriage, despite the town ladies’ best efforts to entice him. He is also at his wit’s end with his mischievous children. They have chased off several nursemaids, and when his new gardener displays some small talent at reining them in, he promptly promotes her to the better-paying position of nanny. Now, he assumes, he can again devote his entire attention to the intricate task of turning a healthy profit from his crops.
However, he does not count on the undeniable attraction that springs up between him and his strange new nanny - this woman who wears trousers, hides her troubles behind a grin, and refuses to accept defeat. Nor does Annie intend to let him emotionally detach himself from the children who so desperately require his love and affection - provided, of course, she can ever get them to stay in one place long enough to receive it.
But caring for obstinately rebellious children isn’t Annie’s only worry. She is also falling in love with a man who has no idea that he unwittingly blackened his own family’s name when he first let a Martin in the door…
Annie is the gem of this story. She works to help her sister, but unlike so many selfless Mother Teresa figures of the genre, her character is not defined by her good deed: no martyr, she simply wants to see Camille educated, and we hear little more about it. She wears trousers, but the author feels no need to explicate what this means, letting the detail silently illustrate an idiosyncratic individuality that - brace yourself - actually manifests itself in aspects of her character above and beyond her wardrobe, and in far more realistic and sophisticated ways than the usual anachronistic declarations of political correctness.
Naturally, these details are not only indications about Annie, but also about the author’s faith in her readers’ abilities to perceive detail without being pounded over the head with it. Ironic that one should find this rare brand of sophistication is such a short novel - or perhaps, at 298 pages, The Nanny feels so short because of the pleasing, serene simplicity of Ms. Stacy’s prose. It makes for an extremely rapid read, though the swift pace does not compromise the credibility of Annie and Josh’s enjoyable graduation from attraction to love.
But take heed: this graduation boasts sparklers rather than fireworks. It kept me reading from start straight through to finish, and it’s a great romance to lend to a thirteen year old. However, The Nanny lacks the high drama, complex emotions, and sweeping scope that dominate my keeper shelf. On the other hand, its very simplicity is a chief aspect of its charm, and reading it directly before, say, a Robin Schone book offers the same piquant experience as a Roman bath: the shock of the second submersion is even more pronounced after the soothing sensation of the first.
Or perhaps I’m thinking of a Roman Catholic mass…and the confession you might feel obliged to offer after moving from Ms. Stacy’s dreamy, sunwashed innocence to the work of anyone else.