Kraus, Nicola 1974(?)-
Kraus, Nicola 1974(?)-
Born c. 1974.
Worked as a nanny in Manhattan's upper east side.
(With Emma McLaughlin) The Nanny Diaries: A Novel, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(With Emma McLaughlin) Citizen Girl: A Novel, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Emma McLaughlin) Dedication: A Novel, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2007.
The Nanny Diaries was adapted for audio (three cassettes), read by Julia Roberts, Random House Audio, and as a film, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 2007.
Nicola Kraus and her coauthor Emma McLaughlin know whereof they speak when they describe the parents and children of The Nanny Diaries:A Novel, because between them, they spent eight years caring for the children of wealthy Manhattan families. Time writer Belinda Luscombe wrote that "to the litany of anxieties faced by contemporary parents, a list that already includes pedophiles, school fees, and long car trips with a Raffi tape, we must now add a new specter: the nanny with the book contract."
The protagonist of the story is, naturally, Nan, who works for the X family. On meeting Mrs. X and her son in the park, she is offered a position when she says she is looking for a job that will work around her child development classes at New York University. But the original twelve hours a week somehow evolves into a full-time job as Nanny becomes a substitute mother. Luscombe felt that "the novel's niftiness lies in Nanny's keen eye for detail. She's Mary Poppins channeling Dorothy Parker."
In the cold and unloving X family, there is no room on the decorator Christmas tree for a small child's handmade ornament, and original signed Babar prints are hung high, so that no tiny fingerprints can mar them. Mothers like Mrs. X use the "Spatula Reflex" to keep their children from hugging them. "McLaughlin and Kraus get the details right," commented a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "In acid asides, they limn the decor, trendy therapies, and the pretensions of social-climbing Manhattanites." A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that "especially impressive is the authors' ability to allow the loathsome Mrs. X occasional flashes of humanity and pathos."
Nanny lavishes attention on four-year-old Grayer, described by People reviewer Kim Hubbard as "a sweetly funny boy so hungry for his father's presence that he carries Mr. X's tattered business card with him everywhere." Mr. X is, however, caught up in his affairs, business and otherwise. Nan takes Grayer to all of his scheduled lessons and appointments and on his "permissible nonstructured outings," which include the French Culinary Institute, the botanical garden, and the Swedish consulate. When Grayer doesn't get into the first school of their choice, his parents bring in a "long-term development consultant." "In short," noted Luscombe, "they give him everything but their attention."
The unappreciated nanny is given difficult, if not impossible tasks. Alone, she is expected to entertain a large group of children near the family's unfenced pool and feed them from an empty refrigerator. Nanny prepares healthy meals for Grayer per instruction and follows orders left for her on Mrs. X's personal stationery. She stays up with Grayer when he is ill, and his mother, who is away at a spa, has left orders that she is not to be disturbed. Nanny calls her own mother by phone and gets a diagnosis of croup. Grayer's parents forget to pay Nanny, and her Christmas present is earmuffs, while the piano teacher gets a check and a Hermes bag to put it in. This may seem a stretch, but, in fact, both Kraus and McLaughlin have been given earmuffs for Christmas by such families.
In a Washington Post Book World review, Judith Warner wrote that Nanny "is a good observer … a welcome moral anchor for the book. But as a character, she's limited. She is, sad to say, too true to herself—too much of a typical twenty-something, speaking in varying tones of overheated petulance—to have a voice that's readable for long periods of time."
The authors are familiar with the trappings of their fictional family, since they worked for thirty similar real-life families and, in addition, Kraus grew up on the upper East Side. Their disclaimer says that this is a work of fiction, but New Statesman contributor Hephzibah Anderson wrote that "so much of what fills the pages of this highly entertaining debut seems just too bizarre to have been made up." Anderson continued: "Park Avenue parenting is an unnerving mix of the overweening and the criminally neglectful: it's flash cards in the womb and Suzuki tapes in the bath, but it goes without saying that mother-and-child events are for nanny and child." The Kirkus Reviews writer felt that "Nanny's romance with an Ivy League student is left dangling, but finally this is a fast-paced, witty, and thoroughly entertaining tale." Library Journal critic Beth Gibbs called The Nanny Diaries "an amusingly cutthroat novel…. Looking through Nan's eyes into the lives of Manhattan's rich is a lot of fun—she's biting."
Nanny befriends a fellow nanny in her early forties who used to be an engineer in her native San Salvador but who can find only low-paying child-care jobs in the United States. Nanny is also keenly aware of the fact that many of her fellow nannies have young families of their own, families that are often left to the care of grandparents while the nannies tend to the "little pashas of the Upper East Side." Zacharek called the novel "a sharply barbed comedy of manners; the denizens of New York's upper East Side (and, by extension, their brethren in all other tony, overpriced, deadly dull neighborhoods in cities around the world) are its target."
Janet Maslin wrote in the New York Times that "in all the domiciles described here—places where it is deemed very important to have lavender water in the steam iron—the point is that nobody's really home. Nobody but the servants and the children. This book is saved from self-righteousness not only by the authors' cleverness but also by their compassion. For oblivious parents, lonely offspring, and overworked, underpaid employees alike, they're out to fix something that's broken."
The authors' next book, Citizen Girl: A Novel, finds "Girl" working for a feminist icon whom Girl discovers cares less about effecting change and more about keeping her reputation alive based on the past. The authors show women being exploited while believing that they are experiencing sexual freedom. Girl takes a job with My Company, a Web site run by men, including her boss, Guy, who want to draw a specific demographic of women to the site in order to sell them the products of their sponsors, not unlike what many women's magazines actually do. When the company begins to lose money, management decides to change the format and make a bundle by offering porn instead, which, naturally, leads to Girl having to make a decision.
Citizen Girl did not receive the warm reception from reviewers as did the authors' first book, but in reviewing it for Bookslut online, Gena Anderson wrote: "What the book gets right is the feeling of disillusionment many people feel upon leaving a college education and entering the workforce, and specifically the pressure women may feel when their appearance makes a critical impact on how far they go in the given workforce."
Dedication: A Novel, a story about closure, finds Kate Hollis, a sustainable development consultant, flying from Charleston, South Carolina, to her hometown of Croton Falls, Vermont. She has been told that Jake Sharpe is coming to town, and Kate has issues with him. Not only did the now-rock star leave her escortless for the senior prom, he also used their relationship in writing the lyrics of his most popular songs and failed to give to the friends he played with while in high school the recognition, and royalties, they deserve.
Booklist contributor Kristine Huntley noted that, just as the story leads to the obvious ending, Kraus and McLaughlin inject "a surprise and give the reader, and Kate, a completely unexpected and wholly satisfying conclusion."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2002, Beth Warrell, review of The Nanny Diaries: A Novel, p. 923; October 1, 2004, Meredith Parets, review of Citizen Girl: A Novel, p. 283; March 15, 2007, Kristine Huntley, review of Dedication: A Novel, p. 5.
Bookseller, February 2, 2007, "Nanny Diarists Sign for S&S," p. 13.
Book World, February 6, 2005, "Facing the Loss of What You Love, Whether It's a Dog, a Husband or Tour Ideals: Girl Power," p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, November 19, 2004, Karen Valby, review of Citizen Girl, p. 87.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2002, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 67; October 1, 2004, review of Citizen Girl, p. 934.
Library Journal, March 1, 2002, Beth Gibbs, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 140; April 15, 2007, Andrea Y. Griffith, review of Dedication, p. 74.
M2 Best Books, February 9, 2004, "‘Nanny Diaries’ Authors Second Novel Runs into Trouble."
Miami Herald, June 5, 2007, Hannah Sampson, review of Dedication; June 6, 2007, "A Woman Scorned … Never Forgets."
New Statesman, March 18, 2002, Hephzibah Anderson, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 56.
New York, March 4, 2002, Daniel Mendelsohn, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 52.
New York Times, February 7, 2002, Anthony Haden-Guest, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. B8; March 4, 2002, Janet Maslin, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. B8; February 9, 2004, "‘Girl’ Appears Not to Have Same Glamour as ‘Nanny,’" p. 6.
People, March 25, 2002, Kim Hubbard, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 49; November 15, 2004, Allison Adato, review of Citizen Girl, p. 48.
Publishers Weekly, February 25, 2002, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 40; April 22, 2002, Daisy Maryles, Dick Donahue, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 26; October 11, 2004, review of Citizen Girl, p. 53.
Time, March 25, 2002, Belinda Luscombe, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. 71.
USA Today, November 18, 2004, Carol Memmott, review of Citizen Girl, p. 4D; June 7, 2007, Deirdre Donahue, review of Dedication, p. 6D.
Washington Post Book World, April 10, 2002, Judith Warner, review of The Nanny Diaries, p. C4.
Bookslut,http://www.bookslut.com/ (December 2, 2007), Gena Anderson, review of Citizen Girl.