You could say…that the novel's central proposition is trite: how will Clara face the demons of her past?
Yet all universal dilemmasand this is certainly onecould be dismissed as trite. The truth is they face us all, and it is the novelist's job to breathe life into them one way or another, and this is something Shapiro does very well indeed. The strength of this novel is its particularity, its specificity, whether Shapiro is raking over the changes wrought by the years to the Upper West Side or describing Clara's sense of dislocation as she attempts to blend in with the other moms on the Maine island…
The New York Times
Clara, the protagonist of Shapiro's uneven fifth novel (after Family History), is the youngest daughter and muse of Ruth Dunne, a famous Manhattan photographer who made her name shooting Sally Mann–style (read: nude and provocative) photos of a young Clara. Unable to bear the humiliation of being "the girl in those pictures," Clara runs away from home at 18. Fourteen years later and still estranged from her mother, Clara's living in Maine with her husband and daughter when her older sister calls and tells her Ruth is in failing health. Clara travels back to Manhattan, where she comes to terms with her family and herself. Though Clara's frequent bemoaning of her emotional scars tries the reader's patience, Shapiro's sharp depictions of love and shame go a long way toward putting the self-pity into relief. It's unfortunate that Ruth fails to comes across as anything more than a narcissistic artist, but the novel offers some fine insights into marriage, the making of art and the often difficult mother-daughter dynamic. (Apr.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
It has been 14 years since Clara last saw or spoke to her mother, the renowned photographer Ruth Dunne, when her sister calls to say that Ruth is dying of lung cancer. Returning home to New York, Clara is forced to revisit her feelings about Ruth's work, particularly the subversive, invasive photographs of Clara from age three to 14, while dealing with Ruth's inevitable decline toward death. The story unfolds beautifully, drawing the reader into the family drama, while Shapiro (Family History) creates a sense of uneasy secrecy about Ruth and Clara's relationship by revealing only a few details at a time. Oprah's Book Club readers or fans of Jodi Picoult will enjoy this psychologically gripping book, and there will be a reading group guide available. Recommended for most libraries.
Clara struggles to come to terms with her dying mother, famous for exploitative photos taken of Clara as a child. Were Ruth Dunne's exquisite nude photos of her younger daughter-who sensed the abuse but could never articulate it-permissible, as art, or were they an unforgivable act of exploitation? Shapiro (Family History, 2003, etc.) seems to draw on the controversy surrounding real-life photographers like Sally Mann, but she populates this interesting scenario with bluntly drawn characters. Clara Dunne is reduced to panic at any reminder of her mother's photo shoots and her own unwelcome fame as the child star of the Clara Series. Fourteen years before the story opens, she fled New York and started a new life in Maine, as the wife of jeweler Jonathan and mother of Samantha. When Clara's sister Robin phones with the news that Ruth is ill, Clara chooses to go back and help, but cannot bring herself to explain to Sam that she has a grandmother. Ruth has terminal cancer but hopes, before time runs out, to put together a book containing all the pictures that made her name. Clara is appalled all over again by this news. Back in Maine, however, Jonathan's anger and Sam's withdrawal force her to come clean with her own daughter. Now the family can return to New York, for a sequence of healing scenes. Sam sees some of the photos at MoMA and pronounces them cool. Robin, who has spent a lifetime feeling alone, grows closer to Clara. Ruth, on her deathbed and ruthless no more, asks forgiveness. And Clara celebrates the publication of the book. Victimhood presented, as the title suggests, in stark terms, with only occasional flashes of insight.
“Spellbinding . . . provocative, hypnotic . . . spot-on authentic. A cool depiction of a mother and daughter's fraught and fiery relationship.” —USA Today“Enthralling, fast-paced and a great read. Black & White presents knotty, compelling issues that Shapiro examines intelligently.” —The Miami Herald“Shapiro's central characters are expertly rendered: both the damaged Clara, whose childhood trust in and love for her mother was abused, and Ruth, whose love for her daughter and her art were so inextricably linked that they became interchangeable.”—Elle“Uncompromising storytelling. . . . The ideas Shapiro grapples with resonate, and she raises trenchant and enduring questions that resist easy answers.” —Los Angeles Times“Funny and tragic. . . . Perfectly displays Shapiro's commanding craftsmanship...Shapiro does something rather thrilling with her story: she gets it just right. —The Washington Post