Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book talk by best selling author Jane Green. The event was sponsored by the Forsyth County Public Library and Bookmarks, a literary arts organization that fosters a love of reading and writing in the community. I’ve mentioned the Bookmarks Festival in former blogs. http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/ex-parte-tillman-history-makes-good-fiction/, http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/notes-from-david-baldacci/,http://www.fortheloveofwriting.net/the-writing-process-outline-or-hope-and-grope/)
Green is a delightful presenter who connected immediately with her audience, which was mostly composed of women. A former journalist in the UK who now lives with her second husband and blended family in Westport, Connecticut, she retains a slight but charming British accent.
Green wrote her first novel Straight Talk with the goal of creating a story characterizing the thirty-something single career woman, a niche which she thought no one had addressed. To her surprise, Helen Fielding published Bridget Jones Diary in 1996, only two months prior to the release of Green’s book, beating her to the punch.
Fortunately, Straight Talk got noticed and linked to Fielding’s book as a suggestion that “if you liked Bridget Jones Diary, you’ll love Straight Talk.” It quickly became a New Your Times bestseller and Green went on to write sixteen more books, fifteen of which made the bestseller list.
I’d never read any of Green’s books and in anticipation of the talk, I purchased The Sunshine Sisters, which was released on June 6 of this year. At the beginning of the story we learn that Ronni Sunshine, a B-list movie actress and star of the Westport County Playhouse, is dying of ALS. She has been a terrible mother to her three daughters, who are now grown and have become estranged from one another. Ronni is now full of remorse and seeks amends for her selfish behavior as a parent.
Her plan is to gather her daughters together at her home in Connecticut for a reconciliation, so that they will have a support system in each other after she is gone. She must activate her plan quickly because she has decided to take matters into her own hands to end her life rather than spend the remainder of what’s left of it helpless and in pain.
As the story unfolds, the author introduces Ronni’s daughters and traces each of their backgrounds. Nell, the oldest and in her forties, oversees a farm near her mother’s house, where she has raised and provided for her son River since her high school sweetheart left her pregnant and brokenhearted. Nell has contented herself with the farm and raising her son. She never remarried or found companionship with another man as her mother felt she should.
Meredith is the middle child, who received constant criticism from her mother regarding her weight and choice of clothes, and moved far away to London when she became an adult. Talented and creative, she abandoned her love of art for a career as an accountant. She is engaged to a handsome but vapid man, an influential member of her firm who she has agreed to marry only because she thinks he’s the best she can do.
Lizzy, the youngest and most like her mother in looks and narcissistic personality, has her own cooking show and hosts exclusive New York supper clubs. Her affair with her business partner is causing a rift in her marriage, jeopardizing her relationship with her husband James, a stay-at-home father who tends to their small son Connor.
As the daughters gather, they must first come to terms with the reality that their mother is actually dying and not having one of her dramatic episodes where in the past she was “convinced that every mole was melanoma, every cough was lung cancer, every case of heartburn was an oncoming heart attack.” They’d all grown deaf to her self-obsessed theatrics and had found their own ways to tune her out and distance themselves from her.
Now she is really dying and although each sister harbors her own particular brand of resentment as a result of Ronni’s dysfunctional parenting, all are shocked by the reality that they are losing her. After all, she is the only mother they have!
Amidst the anger they feel toward Ronni, and the anxiety produced from being summoned to participate in a virtual death watch over their mother, the sisters experience moments of laughter and healing as they confront impaired relationships in their lives, not only with their mother, but with each other.
The story comes to a realistic but satisfying conclusion with Nell and Meredith and Lizzy having renewed the bonds of sisterhood, just as Ronni had intended.
Jane Green describes her books as satisfying stories you’d like to curl up by a fire and read with a hot mug of tea. Now that it’s summer, I think she might agree that they’d be just as satisfying when accompanied by a beach chair, a cool drink, and the sound of waves breaking against the sand.