Sisters. We love them, they make us crazy, they tell us when we’ve gotten really unflattering haircuts . . . for good or for ill, they’re a mainstay. And if yours is anything like mine, they might as well be an extension of your upper body. You’re really just thatclose.
Such is the way with Meghan and Bridget Fitzmaurice, a sisterly duo who, on the surface, couldn’t be more dissimilar. Meghan is a powerhouse in the vein of Katie Couric who continuously entreats viewers to “rise and shine” on the morning talk show circuit. A New York-based celebrity whose red hair attracts as much attention as her hard-hitting interviews, Meghan is a go-getter with a seemingly successful marriage and devoted college-bound son.
On the flip side is Bridget, a caustic but warmhearted social worker who works at a women’s shelter in the Bronx. Ostensibly single when she’s not with her on- and off-again boyfriend, an older police detective, Bridget finds solace in her work and friendships. She’s very close to Meghan’s son, Leo, and acts as a surrogate parent when his own mother and father are too busy — or too flighty — to catch up with him.
When Meghan utters an inexcusable phrase — at least in the eyes of the FTC — via a live mic just before a commercial break, her carefully cultivated image (and job) are on the line. The Fitzmaurice sisters must band together to overcome a sudden onslaught of controversy and change — and hope they’ll emerge mostly unscathed. Together.
Anna Quindlen’s Rise and Shine, published in 2006, was my first introduction to this popular author. I was drawn by the description of a powerful woman who stands in contrast to her relatively unknown little sister — two women doing important things, even if one isn’t known outside the shelter where she gets impoverished mothers and children out of danger. And it didn’t hurt that Meghan and I share a name (though I keep typing Megan).
Quindlen’s story of one sister’s fall while the other rises kept my attention and broke my heart. Though I found myself spitting mad at some of the plot twists, Quindlen’s love letter to New York City — and two of its inhabitants — rang true for me.
First, Bridget. Lady is a spitfire. If there’s anything I like in a narrator, it’s someone willing to offer a no-holds-barred glimpse into their life. Where Meghan seems to “have it easy,” being a celebrity and all, Bridget muddles through each day with its abused kids and bureaucracy. Though outsiders might see Bridget as the one with the “tougher” job, especially as she gets none of Meghan’s glory, it’s obvious that Bridget doesn’t really feel that way about her sister. Meghan’s grueling schedule, professional woes and issues make her life unenviable most of the time . . . that is to say, unenviable to me. And Bridget. I liked that Bridge didn’t crucify or revere her sister . . . that she could present both her flaws and highlights. Don’t most of us feel that way?
Meghan herself was a bit more of an enigma, especially when stuff really starts to go down. I alternated between wanting to hug and slug her. No one could fault her for uttering a few choice words about a TV guest, a philanderer who has the nerve to appear with his pregnant girlfriend. The only trouble was the fact that said words were muttered as millions of Americans dipped a spoon into their morning yogurt. After the brouhaha, I really felt for Meghan — until she ran from her problems. As her marriage hits the skids, I wanted her to walk up and face Evan . . . the way she’s faced so many other things. Still, I couldn’t completely fault her for some of her choices; it just wasn’t a great situation. Period.
Quindlen makes some points about fame vs. the everyday worker, New York vs. the rest of the world. Though I got them, they didn’t make the story for me. At its heart is a tale of two sisters who have always been Fitzmaurice Against The World. After the death of their parents, Meghan tended to a young Bridget during her formative years . . . and that bond is unbreakable. As the story progresses and things get worse, the pair must depend on one another to get through it all. And Quindlen’s message about sisters — how crazy they make us; how much we love them — feels very authentic.
Lovers of women’s fiction and stories exploring the dynamics of family and friendship will find Rise and Shine to be an entertaining, memorable story. It was interesting, heartbreaking — so many things rolled into one. I listened to it on audio and didn’t want it to end.
4 out of 5!
A word about the audio: Narrator Carol Monda had juuuuust the right amount of gritty, seasoned New Yorker in her voice to play a completely believable Bridget. I loved her slight rasp, her wry tone, her pacing; everything about the audio was great.