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Nanny's world 

A New York Times article recently described the current nostalgia for housework that has given birth to such boutique products as expensive organza aprons and pricey bottles of lavender ironing water. The well-heeled women who stock their Park Avenue apartments with these necessities are of the same ilk portrayed in The Nanny Diaries; they reserve spots at preppie preschools, buy organic snack foods and shop for the ultimate accessory: a nanny to oversee the less attractive tasks of motherhood.

The sly social observations of Diaries are witty, even if the novel gets a bit silly (the main character is named Nan, but goes by Nanny). Only months away from her college graduation, Nanny works for the coyly named X family. She cares for Grayer, the 4-year-old son of an absent businessman and a woman who spends her days shopping and devising the best plan of action to get her son admitted to the preschool of her choice.

Told through the eyes of Nanny, the story takes its time unraveling. She is submitted to a variety of humiliations in the name of childcare, from being forced to wear a Teletubby costume that matches Grayer's to being offered a Nantucket vacation with the family only to find herself drafted to watch a multitude of vacationing youngsters. Upon discovering that Mr. X is having an affair, Nanny finds herself torn between conscience and duty. And what should she do about the cute Harvard senior she sees in the elevator of her employers' apartment building?

The authors, former nannies themselves, are careful to include a prominent disclaimer at the front of the book claiming no similarity between their former employers and the family portrayed in the book. However, their dead-on characterization of the exclusive circles that employ nannies are sure to elicit chuckles from anyone who has ever snickered over a Dominick Dunne column.

The authors manage to balance the absurdity of Nanny's situation with an ironic humor, carefully tempered by Nanny's emotional investment in Grayer and his plight. The Nanny Diaries is an entertaining update on "Upstairs/Downstairs" and, although the authors obviously took the age-old advice to write what they know, they show a deft hand for comic fiction.

The Nanny Diaries, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. 306 pages, $24.95. St. Martin's Press.

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