Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen
Also from the book sale. I picked this up because way back in the day I used to like this newspaper column Anna Quindlen wrote.
So it’s a library hardcover. It came with the dust jacket, but I couldn’t get the library stickers off, so it’s jacket-less now. I understand this is sacrilege to some. But it’s a 55c book, with WITHDRAWN FROM COLLECTION stamped inside. I’m ok with my decision. 😉 The book itself is white with gold lettering.
I gather from online reviews that this wasn’t the best Quindlen novel to start with, as it seems to be the least-loved of her books. But it was a good sequel to The Nanny Diaries, as it is also set in New York and features uber-rich people! However, unlike The Nanny Diaries, the main mom in this one, the narrator’s sister, Meghan, is presented as being a good mom despite being a workaholic, who has raised her son right—he may be rich, but he’s humble about his privilege! He even uses honorifics and last names when addressing the help!
Throughout Rise and Shine, the privileged characters were unfailingly polite, helpful, kind, etc. to the underprivileged characters. But the kindnesses all came from a position of superiority. They accepted, they forgave, they patronized, but they didn’t understand. They oozed sympathy, but they lacked empathy.
The book was really telly, not so much in a “I’m going to tell you a story” kind of way, but more of a “Let me explain to you how it is” kind of way. So there were these weird passages of exposition (that went on for pages and were completely extraneous to the plot) about things that anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock would be aware of, like the fact that many New Yorkers make use of a car service (“black cars”), rather than private cars or public transport. Um, yeah. What? Does she think we’ve never seen a movie/TV show set in NY? Or, you know, that car services don’t exist anywhere else? I’m really not sure why that was there. It should have been cut. (I’m looking at you, Anna Quindlen’s editor.)
The backstory is that Meghan and Bridget (the narrator) are orphaned at a young age when their parents die in a car accident. Their early life, which Meghan can remember and Bridget, being younger, can’t, was one of privilege, although it turns out the wealth they thought they had was an illusion. After their parents die, it turns out their father was in debt up to his eyeballs and they were left with nothing! Oh noes! Off to the poorhouse!
Well, not exactly. Meghan and Bridget go to live with their mother’s sister and her husband, and live an ordinary middle-class life (their aunt is a nurse). They have to share a room. (The horror!) When they grow up, Meghan is driven to succeed! I guess to gain back all they (thought they) lost. She winds up the STAR! of a network morning program (Rise and Shine). Meanwhile Bridget drifts through a series of menial and granola jobs, before finally going back to school in her thirties to become a social worker.
Bridget is actually a pretty interesting character and I think if this had been more her story and less “Meghan’s story as told by Bridget” I would have liked it better. For example, I would’ve like to read more about dealing (or not dealing) with the loss of their parents (the part that’s glossed over in the backstory) or more about how Bridget deals with the wild swings between the uber-rich world of her sister and the very poor world that she deals with at her job. It’s kind of like a superhero role: by day, mild-mannered social worker, by night, glittery dinner-party sidekick!
So anyway, the inciting incident is when Meghan calls an interviewee an asshole on air. Or, rather, she thinks they have gone to commercial, but they haven’t and her mic catches her muttering to herself. Also, the guy, as presented, was an asshole. But this causes a big to-do.
Which… that’s all? That’s it? That’s the Big Incident? Yes, I know. Wardrobe Malfunction-gate. I know people get their underpants in a twist over lesser things in real life. (Sigh.) Yet, in fiction, plot twists have to be believable. And the thing is, I don’t believe (even in real life) that people really get upset at hearing other people swear. Even on TV. I think they act like they’re upset because it’s politically advantageous. But I don’t think they’re really upset. (It’s not like the person was calling you an asshole, which would be something entirely different.)
Anyhow. I guess I’m supposed to feel bad for Poor Meghan, but I don’t. I just don’t feel the urgency when someone who has more money than they know what to do with loses their job and then is like “oh noes! I’ll never work in The Biz again! whatever will I do?!” Oh, I don’t know. How about setting up a philanthropic organization a la Bill Gates and giving away some of those millions? Or you know, any one of a googol things that you could do when you have millions of dollars to fund it. Or are you so lacking in imagination that you honestly can’t think of anything to do but lament not being Ms. Popularity anymore?
And then, well into the book, an actual tragic event occurs, the impact of which is lessened because it’s so clearly a device to kick Meghan out of her funk and straight back into everyone’s good graces, and before you know it, ta-da!