15 Jun Beach Reading: The Sunshine Sisters
The Sunshine Sisters
Last week, I attended a book talk by best selling author Jane Green, held at the Forsyth County Library. Bookmarks, a literary arts organization that fosters a love of reading and writing in the community, sponsored the event. I’ve mentioned the Bookmarks Festival in former blogs. (See David Baldacci, John Hart and John Grisham)
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.
Story Characterizing the Thirty-something Single Career Woman
She wrote her first novel, Straight Talk, with the goal of creating a story characterizing the thirty-something single career woman. She thought no one had addressed that niche. 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. Fielding’s book appeared online as a suggestion that, “if you liked Bridget Jones Diary, you’ll love Straight Talk.” It quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Green then went on to write sixteen more books, fifteen of which made the bestseller list.
Ronni Sunshine was a B-List Movie Actor and a terrible mother
I’d never read any of Green’s books. Therefore, in anticipation of the talk, I purchased The Sunshine Sisters, released on June 6 of this year. At the beginning of the story we meet Ronni Sunshine, B-list movie actress and star of the Westport County Playhouse. We also learn that Ronnie is dying of ALS.
She’s been a terrible mother to her three daughters, who are now grown and have become estranged from one another. Now full of remorse, Ronnie seeks amends for her selfish behavior as a parent. She plans to gather her daughters together at her home in Connecticut. She hopes for a reconciliation among them so they’ll have a support system in each other after she is gone.
Ronni must activate her plan quickly. She has decided to take matters into her own hands to end her life rather than spend the remainder 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. There, 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, the middle child, received constant criticism from her mother regarding her weight and choice of clothes. Thus, she 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.
Finally, Lizzy is the youngest and most like her mother in looks and narcissistic personality. She has her own cooking show and hosts exclusive New York supper clubs. But her affair with her business partner is causing a rift in her marriage. She’s jeopardizing her relationship with her husband James, a stay-at-home father, who tends to their small son Connor.
They’d Found Their Own Way to Tune Her Out
As the daughters gather, they must first come to terms with the reality that their mother is actually dying. For they’ve all become tone-deaf to 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 found their own ways to tune her out and distance themselves from her.
Now she’s really dying. And, although each sister harbors her own particular brand of resentment as a result of Ronni’s dysfunctional parenting, the reality of her impending death shocks them all. After all, she is the only mother they have.
Although they feel anger toward Ronni for summoning them to participate in her virtual death watch, the sisters experience moments of laughter and healing. As they confront their impaired relationships with their mother, they begin to resolve their issues with each other.
A Realistic but Hopeful Conclusion
The story comes to a realistic but hopeful 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.