Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

A Perfect Arrangement

Rate this book
Handsome and ambitious, Mirella and Howard Cook-Goldman have it all-two precious children, dual careers, a great old colonial house on Massachusetts's North Shore, a golden retriever. The only thing they lack is reliable child care.

Enter Randi Gill, sent by Family Options, Ltd., an agency specializing in Midwestern girls with teaching aspirations ("Could you be Comfortable with Anything but the Best for Your Family?. . . Guaranteed Nationwide FBI Criminal Fingerprinting and Background Checks."). Randi's references are perfect. She's perfect. She cleans, cooks, sews, and makes her own Play-Doh. The children love her . . . almost too much.

Though it's hard for Mirella to watch Randi succeed with the children where she has failed, she can't deny the peace and order Randi has brought to the household. But perfection is a tough act to maintain, and soon enough, there are ruptures. When events force Mirella and Howard to reveal the secrets they've been hiding from each other, the family cataclysm catapults the nanny (who has secrets of her own) into a position of unnatural control.

301 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2001

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Suzanne Berne

12 books73 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
33 (6%)
4 stars
96 (19%)
3 stars
195 (40%)
2 stars
126 (26%)
1 star
34 (7%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews
Profile Image for Katie Kenig.
514 reviews28 followers
March 7, 2008
The last approximately ten percent of this book left me stunned and feeling more than a little unsettled.

It may have been my own history working as a nanny in my early twenties that made the character of Randi, the nanny in this novel, more compelling to me than the driven career-woman mother. Perhaps it was that I feel more of a connection to stay-at-home mothers and the mother in this novel treated them a little bit disdainfully that made me more on the nanny's "side". Whatever it was, I wasn't expecting my feelings to be so upended.

Primarily, this is a story about possessiveness and emotion. Who has the "right" to love who, or what, in our world? Who really "owns" children, land, clean air, free time, affection? Where do the boundaries lie between who is allowed to be family and who is not?

Touching. I'm glad this one made it to my bookshelf.
Profile Image for Jenny Karraker.
168 reviews4 followers
July 3, 2012
I saw this on someone's list and decided to read it. I found it very slow and not very interesting. Author explores the life of a wealthy Bostonian couple who struggle with the challenges of juggling 2 careers with raising children plus trying to keep their marriage intact. The nanny seems like a God send, but you know something isn't quite right about the while thing. Wanting closure, I skimmed through the book to found out what happens at the end. I don't think I'll read anything else by this author.
Profile Image for L.N. Cronk.
Author 23 books183 followers
November 28, 2011
The description labels this book as "suspenseful", which is why I gave it such a low rating. The only suspense was waiting for something exciting to happen. It was more of a character study and the "events" at the end were anti-climatic, in my opinion. Nothing shocking, nothing surprising, nothing really original. If the book's description had not led me to believe the book was going to be exciting, I would have given it a higher rating.
140 reviews
January 24, 2022
For a book that is 300 pages, not much happens. In fact, one could argue that the author has run out of words at the end of the story, hamfistedly tacking together an ending that ties off the loose ends (of sorts).

I'm unsure if the novel was mysterious because it was supposed to be, or if it was a reflection of the writing. I truly thought the story would end with the parents discovering Randis kleptomaniacy, and that Randi would take Jacob with her to California, her largest heist of all.

All in all, I think that perhaps there were too many loose ends for my liking. So many avenues of discussion, thought and potential progression were opened only for them to be closed abruptly at the end.

There were some rather poignant turns of phrase though, and I've picked some of my favourites below. (also, lots of new, unfamiliar words!)

all of her worries and failures and abilities and cares, all of it mattered so dearly, but so briefly, and that it was all in a way nearly over, even the parts of her life that were still to come

it was true that simple exigency had united many families...who had manipulated, ignored, and transgressed against each other as married people inevitably must, if they are to accommodate a houseful of children and survive their life together

She began to feel the mild hopefulness that accompanies almost any excursion in fine weather, no matter how brief or circumscribed, or what the forecast ahead

Craving it all with a hunger that gradually lost the piquancy of desire and took on the suffocating absorption of lust
56 reviews3 followers
August 28, 2019
I’m really surprised at the low ranking this novel gets - for me it was a really well-handled portrait of a professional couple and their marriage and family in crisis. The novel explores in detail the forces that drew the couple together and that now threaten to disconnect them completely, alongside the main narrative of a stranger who offers love and attention to two children that seem to need it. And how that intervention is viewed as unwelcome and potentially possessive despite the fact that it’s necessary and not coming from a more appropriate source. Thought-provoking, well-written and full of human and emotional truth.
Profile Image for Frances.
451 reviews
April 6, 2014
This book seemed to have great promise, but ran out of steam towards the end. The nanny, Randi, was built up to be a potential psychopath, but eventually appeared to be much more of a victim. The stresses of working parents coping with a child with severe autism were explored, but could have been much more fully developed by the author.
Profile Image for Chris.
678 reviews15 followers
January 13, 2018
Randi, is hired as a nanny to a double income couple (Howard and Mirabella) with two children, Pearl and Jacob. It comes as no surprise that the household and the marriage continue to deteriorate from the get go. These kids, this house, this life, they think, it all demands so much of them. The sacrifices they make. The morning chaos of getting everyone fed and dressed and cleaned up and out the door in time. Making sure everyone has their stuff and going over last minute updates for the day - plumber coming so be sure you’re home, dinner meeting next week can you cover for me... sort of thing.

Mirabella does not handle this family chaos well; she can be short tempered and as obstinate as her daughter Pearl. Mirabella is an attorney and her mind is always racing with thoughts of work, thoughts of what she would like to take care of at home (but can’t) or promising her involvement for school/community and ends up forgetting things and coming up short. Her appearance is important as well as necessary focus in her job. Howard is more the patient laid back parent but this is all starting to get on his nerves more and more as he’s been relegated to step in and his work more often than hers takes a back seat (he is an architect). Thus, this is yet another attempt (after failed others) at securing a nanny.

It is apparent their lifestyle requires two incomes and it is apparent they both do like their work - perhaps more than taking care of their children? It’s all just so exhausting trying to balance everything. Mirabella, as an attorney, is constantly strapped for time and attention and her long commute just adds to the problem.

So Randi is interviewed and hired through an agency and in no time is running spectacular interference for the family. She manages to not only take care of the house, but the adults and the two children which I’m presuming Jacob has autistic tendencies though that diagnosis was never indicated. Pearl is a difficult child in and of herself with tendencies to worry herself sick about the weather which they lie to her about so she does not work herself up every day. I learned this is a very real psychological illness called astraphobia.

Randi has developed a close connection with Jacob, and the mother begins to get jealous. Especially as the children start to prefer being with Randi over Mirabella.

Randi employs the children to do crafts, she reads them books, they bake cookies, they play games, go for a walk, etc. she is not only the nanny but becomes much more, cook, cleaner, organizer, shopper, party planner, good neighbor, caregiver, etc. Not a bad deal and...she’s good at it! Everyone loves her. The kids really connect with her. So does Howard. She is the epitome of what they have all been missing. The calm in the chaos. The nurturer.

The reader is given some clues at the start that something is amiss with Randi, so we wait to see what is going to be so horrible. Randi has not had a happy childhood and is happy to get away from her former life and land this job in a beautiful home with her own room with a lovely family. What I see (as no harm) is Randi wanting to recreate a happy loving home she never had, with things she never had or could afford, treating and working with the children as if they were her own. She enjoys doing these things, is very creative with good intentions. I’m still waiting for what’s so horrible...and guess what? I expected the absolute worst so was disappointed with what was so bad because it really wasn’t.

There are some unexpected events during the story which are good, but when it came to the ending I was disappointed with that. It was rather innocuous in that “life goes on as before” especially after everything that occurred. Not sure that Howard and Mirabella actually learned life lessons from their own despicable behaviors. Sad to say, Randi was the victim in this story, if you ask my opinion.
Profile Image for Alan.
Author 11 books167 followers
August 3, 2017
2006 notebook: controlled, polished writing. An unqualified nanny is appointed to a middle class American home (lawyer/designer). Deft account of their roles and affairs.
Profile Image for Carol Randall.
218 reviews4 followers
July 29, 2018
A compelling read with interesting, although not always likeable, characters.
Profile Image for Lori.
273 reviews
September 28, 2012
Not suspenseful. The characters were bland and unlikeable. I think the author tried to eek out reader empathy but it fails. I skimmed the entire novel because I wanted to discover the disturbing event touted on the jacket. There was nothing disturbing or thrilling at all about this pedestrian tale of middle-class people who live a life of ingratitude and then screwing up what they have.
Profile Image for Tiffany Garcia.
83 reviews6 followers
November 27, 2007
This sounded like a really good book and how the nanny was going to be so bad, it was nothing like that. She just got attached to the autistic son and the mother couldn't handle it. Could have been great.
Profile Image for Aimee.
61 reviews7 followers
February 13, 2009
O.K. A little creepy and the family dynamic frusterated me.
87 reviews2 followers
July 6, 2018
This book plodded along following each of the very flawed and not very like-able family and their nanny. Everything in their lives was designed to go wrong, from Mirella not telling her husband about the pregnancy and oops, she is having twins to Henry having an affair with a vengeful woman with problems. Don't forget their inability to vet a nanny appropriately for their kids, or their lack of joy with their children. There was no levity for the reader and any character for the reader to bond with and root for.

Once the climax occurred, I was flummoxed about a number of things but the top two were:

1. When Randi's mom first arrived, why did she think it was so important for Randi to go home immediately? Randi was holding a job and outwardly seemed to be doing well - other than previous bad acts at home of stealing and lying, what did the mom know about Randi that we the reader never learned? Had Randi been diagnosed with a mental condition previously?

2. After Henry realizes Martha has been run over by the Jeep - where was Randi's mom, Delores? Wouldn't she be keeping an eye on Randi if it was so important for her to go home that day? Wouldn't she have been concerned when Randi and Jacob disappear together - especially when Randi is being forced to leave? The Delores character just disappears in the middle of the climax.

It just felt like the plot was wrapped up haphazardly and was wanting.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jayne Charles.
1,045 reviews17 followers
November 14, 2016
The word that comes to mind in connection with this book is "muted". Given the set-up (stressed-out professional couple hire nanny with faked references who seems brilliant) most people would expect the story to go a particular - quite dramatic - way. It doesn't. It's rather more concerned with examining the relationship of the couple, and the relationship of the nanny with her estranged family. I realised close to the end that there wasn't going to be any drama and settled down to enjoy the descriptive stuff - and really this author is excellent at describing people (I loved the smug earth-mother neighbour for example). I shouldn't feel disappointed, but somehow I do.
Profile Image for Carolyn Drake.
641 reviews4 followers
May 20, 2022
A skilled dissection of a middle-class family struggling to connect and communicate with eachother. Mirella and Howard have an outwardly enviable life, with well-paying, professional jobs. Randi, their new nanny, although 'a little earnest', is proving a godsend with their children, particularly the uncommunicative/autistic toddler. But everyone is weighed down with secrets and guilt. Sharply observational, the different characters' perspectives and inner voices are well-handled and convincing. A slow-burner.
372 reviews3 followers
January 9, 2018
Good book. Mystery with an edge to it. The suspense was built up gradually, but unfortunately the climax never happened. There weren't really any twists and turns.....just basically dark edgy character build up. It was however a good mystery in the sense that in the end there was a revelation of a sort and an unexpected ending. I enjoyed reading it because I love reading - but I won't be bragging about this book or insisting anyone read it.
16 reviews
October 19, 2021
Absolutely Terrible.
Probably one of the worst books I've read in years. So upset with myself for wasting my time with it.
Totally boring, no plot whatsoever.
I don't understand why this book was written...
Please... Don't waste your time! These are hours of your life that you will never get back...
Profile Image for Lesley.
2,417 reviews
July 31, 2017
I actually liked the character Randi and wanted more in her past! Otherwise I would have easily disliked this book but then Randi did something that kept me reading to see where the book goes.
I will say that I automatically drop a point foe
Profile Image for T.
118 reviews29 followers
November 2, 2016
Couldn't finish this book. Got up to around half way and gave up. The writing was great, but the plot seemed very ... jumbled and not very interesting.
Profile Image for Jude Hayland.
Author 5 books15 followers
August 24, 2017
I loved this novel - entirely engaging and real characters, wonderful easy yet poignant, elegant writing. The last page I shall read and re-read constantly as it says so much so effortlessly.
Profile Image for Barbara Matteau.
56 reviews
July 20, 2020
Very interesting character developments. Competent story that was well written & detailed. The touch of local details was enriching & helped give a sense of place & feeling.
528 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2022
3.5 I enjoyed this, a sort of family story with a twist. Quite well done.
Profile Image for Kelly Petruno.
12 reviews
May 8, 2020
Slow moving book. I’m usually a “one book at a time” reader and actually picked up another book in the middle of this one, and finished that one first! I could have easily left this one unfinished. It does pick up a little bit in the second half, however I still felt like it fell a bit flat, lacking necessary character development to make the ending more suspenseful or shocking than it actually was.
1,548 reviews26 followers
December 18, 2010
Howard and Miranda are a two-income, two-kid family in a pretty New England town. He's an architect, about to land his first big independent project. She's a lawyer with an exhausting workload and an even more exhausting daily commute. Since the nanny left, their life is chaos. So when the employment agency sends them Randi (She cooks! She cleans! She crafts!), they can't believe their good luck. So Randi moves in. And things calm down...or do they? While peace and order may reign in the household, and while their autistic son Jacob may be making some progress, Howard and Miranda's marriage seems to be falling apart. He's had an affair that comes back to haunt him. She can't bring herself to tell her husband of her unplanned pregnancy.

Gradually, through the use of Randi's voice, it becomes clear to the reader that Randi has lied about her past and that her devotion to the Goldman-Cook household hides a desperate need for a place to call home. A crescendo is skillfully built up : Howards moves out, Miranda loses an important case, their community votes down Howard's big project, Miranda is ordered to remain in bed... As I progressed through the book, I expected really bad things to start happening, I expected that Randi's psychopathology would at least push her to kidnap Jacob. But nothing of that nature really happened, despite Randi's increasing fantasizing about Jacob being her own child. In the end, Randi is dismissed after an episode that is as murky as the incident in the Marabar caves in "A Passage to India" - did Randi really try to breastfeed Jacob or was that Miranda's imagination? In the last chapter, Miranda and Howard pick up their lives again after her miscarriage.

I rated this book three stars because I feel that the ambiguity in this book, probably intended by the author, did not work well. For instance, it is not clear that Randi consciously set out to alienate the children from their parents; she appeared to be simply a gifted "baby-whisperer". Is Miranda's sense of unease really a form of working mother guilt? Why does Howard's former fling suddenly reappear to wreck his professional life if it appears they had parted on good terms? That being said, the writing is elegant and the evocation of the cutesy New England town is right on target.
Profile Image for Lain.
Author 13 books123 followers
December 1, 2007
The premise of this book had me from "go." A double-income-two-kid couple is in search of a new nanny, and Randi seems to be the answer to their prayers. But as she becomes more and more indispensable, the Cook-Goldman marriage begins to unravel at the edges. Is Randi a willing participant to the family's demise, or just an unwitting bystander? The larger story is about secrets and the things we know but don't admit, even to ourselves.

I'm all for authors keeping a light touch, but seriously... this book had way too much subtext for me. I felt like there was so much going on under the surface that I was missing, and not enough action and explicaation on the page. I foun dmyself re-reading passages, wondering if I'd missed something (the scene at the fireworks was a great example of reader confusion).

Great theme, easy to read, but I felt like I read a whole book without figuring out what was really going on.
Profile Image for Andrea MacPherson.
Author 7 books27 followers
September 11, 2013
Another great book by Suzanne Berne. As with A Crime in the Neighbourhood, clear and empathetic characters, fluid prose. Where Crime used a more dramatic plot line, A Perfect Arrangement is much more subtle. This novel explores the demands of marriage, parenthood, worklife--the modern trifecta. Berne guides us through difficulties in the Goodman-Cook's marriage, brought to a head by the arrival of a new and secretive nanny, Randi.

Really enjoyed the ease of the prose, the authentic drawing of the characters.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 55 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.