Monday, September 18, 2006

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Rise and Shine is a brilliant and often discomfeting look at the life of a television morning show celebrity and her twin sister, who works in the Bronx as a social worker. I've read Quindlans work before, mainly in big newspapers and magazines, and I've admired her no-nonsense take on almost every aspect of American society. She's a journalist in the old fashioned sense of the word, a real news hound with a "dame" perspective. I can only relate to her as a lowly community journalist relates to someone like Ted Turner or William Randolf Hearst. Quindlan, like Susan Orlean, can create long-form journalism pieces that are so acute and fascinating that they yearn to become non fiction books. I've not read her fiction mainly because I'd heard bad things about Black and Blue. I shouldn't have listened to those whispers of warning, because this book was very well written, paced beautifully and full of unforgettable characters. The sisters, Meghan and Bridget, are somewhat hard to empathize with, because both live in such rarified worlds, as twins and as professionals. Yet I found it hard not to want to comfort them when they were sad, or call them on the phone when in crisis, as if they were real people. Writers who draw such vivid characters are rare, and rarer still is the author who can sustain a sense of reality throughout a book filled with things that don't happen to "regular" people, for the most part. The story is told through the eyes of Bridget, the submissive, almost masochistic sister, while we hear of all manner of trauma and tragedy in the life of Meghan, the dominant, wealthy and very selfish twin. You find yourself not liking her decision to drop out of sight, but you admire her guts in taking a stand anyway. From what I know about the world of television (from the time my husband worked at a local TV station), Quindlans account of the backstabbing and ridiculous machinations of the suits in the offices is right on. I'd imagine she has had similar experiences in TV, or dealt with someone who has, and knows of what she speaks. Other than an ending that is saved from being happily ever after by a crippling accident and a cop who refuses to get married to his pregnant girlfriend, this book is nearly perfect, as modern novels go. I recommend it for all those who wonder what life as a celebrity is really like.

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