The title of Dani Shapiro’s latest novel is an example of double entendre par excellence. And, just as with her first novel, Family History, Shapiro’s Black & White weaves a story so compelling and enthralling, it can almost be tasted.
Moreover, the cover conjures images of black and white photography, reinforced by the presence of the black and white image of a young girl on it. True, photography plays an integral role in Shapiro’s story, but I believe the author intended to convey how very little in life is truly black and white.
In reality, a black and white photo is not composed merely of those two colors. Shadows, for example, lend depth and levels of darkness to the piece, injecting another element of color into the mix.
In Black & White, Shapiro introduces readers to Clara, an adult woman whose mother gained notoriety as a photographer by taking black and white nudes of Clara as a young girl. ‘The Clara Series,’ as the photos became known, depicted Clara from ages three to fourteen. When she turned eighteen, Clara did not leave home for college. She fled home to separate herself from the life she had come to know.
Fourteen years later, with Clara’s mother Ruth on her deathbed, Clara’s older and basically estranged sister Robin contacts Clara to let her know. Unsure how to react, or whether a reaction was even warranted, Clara returns to the family home, a lovely Manhattan apartment.
Sleeping in her childhood bed leads Clara to reconsider her life during those tender and agonizing years. How she responds to the anger and animosity she feels toward her mother leads the reader to ponder, “Is anything in life simply black and white?”