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Primitive People Paperback – December 4, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Through the eyes of protagonist Simone, an illegal immigrant from Haiti who becomes a "caregiver" to the children of unforgivably self-absorbed parents, Prose illuminates some of the ludicrous aspects of our culture.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Simone is an illegal immigrant from Haiti, working as an au pair for a family in upstate New York. There, she learns about American life from the shallow, self-centered "primitive people" around her: her employer Rosemary, who is camping out with her withdrawn children in the ancestral home of her estranged husband; Rosemary's brittle and caustic best friend Shelly, an interior decorator; and Shelly's narcissistic, sexually ambiguous boyfriend Kenny, who owns a children's hair salon. In Simone's adjustment to her new life, Prose's latest novel is reminiscent of Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy ( LJ 11/1/90), while its biting satire and anti-male attitude recall Fay Weldon. Although this book is entertaining to read, it doesn't have enough substance or sympathetic characters to be totally successful. Prose's talent for skewering the pretensions of contemporary life is shown to better advantage in her short story collection Women and Children First ( LJ 3/1/88).
- Patricia Ross, Westerville P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Frankly the characters speak so condescendingly to each other, and to Simone in particular, that it all began to feel rather forced to me. It was as if the author, banging us over the head with the lack of moral compass of the characters, was trying to duplicate the feel of "The Great Gatsby" in another era, but didn't come close. (The parallels between the pasts of Simone and Rosemary also felt forced to me). For instance, when Simone dresses for a wedding for one of Rosemary's cousins, Rosemary tells Simone something like "you look just like a high-priced Haitian hooker," which is actually repeated to her by another character who follows it up with "but I mean that in a good way." Since I don't know any people who would say something like this to a children's nanny, at times, I became very disassociated from the characters.
However, once the major plot twist in the book is revealed (about two-thirds of the way through), I found the book really picked up. So I would recommend sticking it out, and, if I could break the book up into three parts, I would give the first two parts two stars, and the third part four stars.
Francine Prose is a very talented writer and, obviously, I like her books as demonstrated by the fact that I purchased five more of them after I read "Blue Angel." I just don't think "Primitive People" is one of her best.
However, despite her great skill as a writer, I found the book only lukewarm on the enjoyability scale. She may write real and vivid characters, but I didn't really care too much about them. And sadly, I felt like she didn't either. It seemed to lack heart. Passion. This book doesn't quite go the distance, and although it is not a bad read it packs no real punch.