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Chatting Up A Storm - Claudia Cragg


Aug 18, 2011

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Author Francine Prose talks with Claudia Cragg her latest novel set in the aftermath of  9/11. My New American Life offers a vivid, darkly humorous, bitingly real portrait of a particular moment in history, when a nation's dreams and ideals gave way to a culture of cynicism, lies, and fear. Beneath its high comic surface, the novel is a more serious consideration of immigration, of what it was like to live through the Bush-Cheney years, and of what it means to be an American.

The protagonist, Lula, is a 26-year old woman from Albania living surreptitiously in New York City on an expiring tourist visa, hoping to make a better life for herself in America. When she lands a job as caretaker to Zeke, a rebellious high school senior in suburban New Jersey, it seems that the security, comfort, and happiness of the American dream may finally be within reach. Her new boss, Mister Stanley, an idealistic college professor turned Wall Street executive, assumes that Lula is a destitute refugee of the Balkan Wars. He enlists his childhood friend Don Settebello, a hotshot lawyer who prides himself on defending political underdogs, to straighten out Lula's legal situation. In true American fashion, everyone gets what he wants and feels good about it.

 

But is it possible that Lula’s new American life is not so different from her old Albanian one?

Francine Prose, as described by Kate Bollick in The Atlantic Monthly. “When Francine Prose finished her education in 1969 she took one look around, decided writing was the only thing she was good at, and never turned back. Thirty years later she has written nearly twenty books (among them novels, children's books, novellas, and short-story collections) and has contributed stories, articles, and reviews to almost every major American magazine and newspaper. She's also taught at prestigious writing programs (such as Sarah Lawrence and Warren Wilson), had two sons, and is currently an editor atDoubleTake.

Francine Prose is a keen observer, and her fiction is full of wryly delivered truths and sardonic witticisms that come from paying close attention to the world. "Withering," one critic has written. "Mocking," another has said. But Prose's fiction does not ease into a fashionable cynicism; instead, it tends toward irony with heart. Trapped within their own heads, victims to the nervous din of their own inner voices, her characters are nevertheless endearingly rendered. Prose's journalism, the body of which covers a remarkably wide range of contemporary topics, lacks the ironic edge of her fiction but is never shy. Very little -- not foreign travel, marital sleep patterns, affairs of the heart, motherhood, nor the countless books that she reviews for Newsday-- escapes her sharply honed perceptions.”

Bibliography of Francine Prose work at the Cyclopedia of World Authors