Black & White
by: Dani Shapiro
Published by: Anchor Books
Reviewed by Beth Cummings
What makes a photograph art and not pornography? What happens when the
photos are of the artist’s young daughter?
In Black & White, Dani Shapiro tackles these issues head on. In the
process she also looks at family relationships: husband/wife, parent/child,
sister/sister, and most particularly, mother artist/daughter subject. The
photographer in this book, Ruth Dunne, gets her artistic breakthrough when
she begins to photograph her three-year-old daughter, Clara, in the bathtub.
From that point on, she conjures up scenarios and places Clara in them as
the photo subject looking as if the situation happened naturally. Her first big
gallery show in New York City was of large blowups of the “Clara series.”
Clara, the protagonist in this stirring novel, begins as an innocent accomplice
in the pictures, but by her preteen years the fame that comes from being
seen nude in galleries and recognized on the street and in school for this
work becomes a hated part of her life. She eventually gets away from home
and starts a new, safe, and unknown life as a wife and mother in rural Maine.
After fourteen years away, her sister calls to say that their mother Ruth is
dying and will Clara please come back to New York to help.
Shapiro’s characters in this book are extremely well done. They have quirks
and facets that would make excellent fodder for book group discussions. The
images in the photos are described in such detail that they seem to be real.
The reactions of the characters to each other and to the art are also real-a
father trying to protect, a sister’s jealousies, an artist’s preoccupation with
only art, and the love/hate relationships that build between family members.
I enjoyed Black & White immensely and could hardly put it down. I would strongly recommend it to reading groups and also to anyone (particularly women) who enjoys a good book about interesting people.
Armchair Interviews agrees.
Author’s Web site: http://www.DaniShapiro.com
From our armchair to yours...