Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

I adored so much about this book. I read it, feeling more and more like a New Yorker as I understood so very much of the descriptions.  Quindlen clearly understand the pulse of New York and even of the Bronx.  She created a full picture, one I know myself, and I loved being able to see the two worlds I have contrasted in my head artfully juxtaposed.  I couldn't help but wonder: Where does Quindlen get this information? How much time has she actually spent in the Bronx?

I wondered if people ever read these sorts of fictional stories with an anthropological eye.  She is a white woman trying to portray the world of poor, non-white individuals.  Seems easy for one to pick at her portrayals.  Too stereotypical. And thus offensive.  I couldn't decide myself if she captured everything realistically.  It was all believable, but I suppose all the time I spent working in the Bronx makes me sensitive to the way some people misrepresent the culture.

It is clear Quindlen has an agenda. She talks about women in the projects being provided with yoga, job training, parenting classes, when they need jobs, health care, a world that will prevent their children from becoming statistics.  The novel focuses somewhat on the way the media responds to the shooting of a white affluent boy (the son of a famous TV persona) versus the collapse of a building filled with low-income families in the Bronx.  While Quindlen seems to be sending a message (I am still unclear exactly her point), the story is mainly about two sisters, one who is a cohost of a popular morning TV show, Rise and Shine.  Megan Fitzmaurice is the most famous woman on morning TV (Meredith Viera-esque?), married to her childhood sweetheart, with a beloved son at Amherst (his father's alma mater).  She is larger than life, the world she lives in is full of town cars and charity balls, while her sister, the narrator, is a social worker in the Bronx with a 60 year old cop boyfriend.  Through these two sisters we get a view into two very different worlds located only blocks apart.

While I was engaged by the story, and loved the prose, I felt myself questioning so much of Quindlen's choices.  Is it appropriate to name a low-income mother Tequila (although I did have a student named Hennessy)?  Why is Bridget portrayed as both a mess and a pariah? Are we really to believe such a loving woman would never desire children of her own?  And of course I had problems with the representations of the Bronx.   It seems many criticized this work for the same reasons.

From Amazon: "Some critics say Meghan's arc in the novel is too dramatic, the contrasts between the gritty Bronx and sparkly Manhattan are overly sharp, and class distinctions are sometimes glossed over. Others, however, find charm in this very modern retelling of the ancient riches-to-rags, humble-sister-saves-the-day story. Even those who struggle with the plot and characterization agree the novel is worth reading simply for the prose."

I do recommend this book. But I am still trying to decide the most salient message.  

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