Black and White by Dani Shapiro explores what happens to a child when the mother selfishly uses her to the point of breaking and beyond. The story begins when Clara Brodeur, now grown and married with a young girl of her own, hears her famous mother is dying of cancer. Her mother is a renowned and controversial photographer Ruth Dunne. Her portraits of a nude Clara from the ages of three to fourteen are what made her so famous. The portraits were revered by some and hated by others. They also caused a rift between Clara’s parents when her father, Nathan, a lawyer, forbade Ruth to take any more nude pictures of Clara.
The decisive moment in the book was when Nathan went away on a business trip, Ruth takes Clara in the middle of the night to the park and shot more pictures, even when Clara begin screaming at her to stop. Clara, sick of the notoriety, fled New York at a young age and never came back. When her sister Robin calls her begging her to come back and help, Clara has to face not only the passing of her mother, but the demons of the pain and betrayal she felt at her mother’s hands.
This is the first book by Dani Shapiro that I have read and it certainly won’t be the last. Her writing steers you along with Clara and her journey back to her past. The storyline is compelling as it examines the fact that a mother would chose fame and notoriety over her daughters sanity and trust. Clara has hidden her past from her daughter and now is faced with the choice to forgive. That is the heart of the novel and it works. There are many wonderful discussions here for book clubs, especially the mother/daughter theme between Clara and Ruth and between Clara and her daughter Sammy, who is the exact replica of Clara. Black and White was an intense and fast read and highly recommended. I will pick up the rest of Shapiro's books.