"My Hollywood" by Mona Simpson

Robin Richards

The Basics

The Huffington Post writes that Mona Simpson’s novel, My Hollywood, is “an honest and poetic exploration of why caring for a child – whether by a mother or a nanny – still just can’t get the respect or security it deserves”. My Hollywood, published in 2011 but set in the 1990’s, contrasts the worlds of Claire, a composer and new mom to William, and Lola, a Filipina nanny. All the while, Claire’s husband, Paul, works as an aspiring television writer and rarely spends time with his family. Simpson’s novel illustrates motherhood as a balance between working towards career goals and caring for a family through the character of Claire and as the responsibility of a babysitter when the biological mother strives to accomplish her goals through the portrayal of Lola. This illustration sheds light on the struggle many modern mothers face as they strive to work and parent simultaneously.

Claire: Career & Motherhood Balance

The ability to balance both a career and good parenting seem utterly impossible through Claire’s characterization. Even with a live-in nanny and plenty of time to compose her symphonies, Claire is overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with caring for William and her pressing deadlines. Regardless, she continues to pursue motherhood and a successful career as a musician at the same time. After firing Lola at the suggestion of William’s teachers, Claire just cannot cope without a nanny and ultimately flies out to Philippines to win Lola back. This act of desperation is the final testament that Claire must have consistent help if she is to continue working and parenting at the same time. Overall, Mona Simpson’s portrayal of the modern mother stands by the idea that the American Dream and motherhood just do not mix seamlessly.

Lola: Biological Mother Substitute

Mona Simpson’s illustration of modern nannies shows how they take on the role of primary caregiver to the young children they look after. Even when Claire is in the same room as William and Lola, Lola plays with, feeds, and comforts the young boy. Because she never leaves William’s side and willingly substitutes for Claire while she’s working towards her dream as a successful composer, William becomes more attached to Lola than his own mother. Although Lola works in order to send money back to the Philippines for her children’s education, as time goes on, it seems as if she cares more for her employer’s children than her own. The way that Simpson portrays Lola and other nannies almost mocks them but also shows that nannies are the quick fix to pursuing the American Dream and motherhood simultaneously.

About the Author

Mona Simpson is an American Author and a professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Sadie Samuelson Levy Professor in Languages and Literature at Bard College. She was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, then moved to Los Angeles as a teenager. She is also the biological younger sister of Steve Jobs, the late Apple Inc. co-founder. She worked ten years on My Hollywood saying that, “it’s the book that took me too long because it meant so much to me." Mona lives in Santa Monica with her two children and their dog, Bartleby.

Conclusion

Mona Simpson’s My Hollywood depicts motherhood as a balance between career goals and parenthood and as the responsibility of a babysitter who cares for family-related responsibilities. This representation describes the careful balance many mothers strive for as they work and parent at the same time. The relationships between Claire, Lola, Paul, and William as written by Simpson are an effort to capture a modern lifestyle centered on having the best of both worlds – a successful career and a beautiful family. At its heart though, My Hollywood demonstrates that caring for a child will never receive the respect that it warrants.