A captivating debut novel about a woman who falls into an overwhelming mutual obsession with the Upper East Side mother who hires her as a nanny
Ella is flat broke: wasting away on bodega coffee, barely making rent, seducing the occasional strange man who might buy her dinner. Unexpectedly, an Upper East Side couple named Lonnie and James rescue her from her empty bank account, offering her a job as a nanny and ushering her into their moneyed world. Ella’s days are now spent tending to the baby in their elegant brownstone or on extravagant excursions with the family. Both women are just 26—but unlike Ella, Lonnie has a doting husband and son, unmistakable artistic talent, and old family money.
Ella is mesmerized by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage. Convinced there must be a secret behind Lonnie’s seemingly effortless life, Ella begins sifting through her belongings, meticulously cataloguing lipstick tubes and baby teeth and scraps of writing. All the while, Ella’s resentment grows, but so does an inexplicable and dizzying attraction. Soon Ella will be immersed so deeply in her cravings—for Lonnie’s lifestyle, her attention, her lovers—that she may never come up for air.
Riveting, propulsive, and startling, Devotion is a masterful debut novel where mismatched power collides with blinding desire, incinerating our perceptions of femininity, lust, and privilege.
Stevens's intriguing yet uneven debut is a descent into obsession that follows Ella, a young woman from backwater Oregon who becomes a nanny for a wealthy 20-something couple in New York. Before acquiring her job, Ella's meager existence in the Big Apple consists of barely having enough to eat and encouraging strangers to buy her dinner to stave off starvation. Though Ella's charge is 16-month-old William, Ella spends most of her time observing his mother, Lonnie whom readers know at the outset will leave her family. Ella investigates Lonnie and James's house, reading Lonnie's diary, looking through her photo albums, and pilfering the occasional trinket. Ella is aware Lonnie cheats on James with Carlow, their friend, which motivates her to attempt a seduction with Carlow in an attempt to get closer to Lonnie. At a writer's retreat, Lonnie encourages Ella to swap identities with her to mess with the woman who leads the retreat, allowing Ella to revel in being Lonnie for a time. Ella is entranced by Lonnie's beauty and is even more drawn to her after she discovers parallels with her own family history. The tension is reduced by revealing Lonnie's disappearance up front, but Stevens meticulously elevates the mundane days of a nanny by injecting Ella's life with her all-consuming adoration for Lonnie. This debut makes for a stimulating character study.