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The Sunshine Sisters

Review

The Sunshine Sisters

Summer in New England has been off to a particularly sluggish start this year. But even though it was only about 50 degrees and raining as I read THE SUNSHINE SISTERS recently, any new novel by Jane Green seems to have the power to usher in summertime --- at least mentally and emotionally! This book is indeed perfect beach reading --- its jacket has a picture of a beach on it, after all --- but it’s hardly escapist.

Green, who herself has been undergoing treatment for malignant melanoma, takes on serious issues of illness and mortality in her latest novel, in ways that must feel very personal to her. She also explores perhaps less weighty but still serious topics such as infidelity, body image, sexual orientation and more, even as she paints a complex family portrait of the titular Sunshine sisters and their imposing mother.

"For the most part, Green avoids predictable resolutions, leaving things just unresolved enough that readers will be able to spend their remaining beach hours or days speculating about how, exactly, things will end up for the Sunshine sisters."

In some ways, THE SUNSHINE SISTERS starts near the end chronologically, as aging Ronni Sunshine, former B-movie actress and star of the Westport County Playhouse, contemplates when and how to end her own life. Having been given a terminal diagnosis, she knows she would rather take matters into her own hands than spend the next however many months or years helpless and in pain. But before she goes, she has brought her three daughters together again --- in some ways for the first time since childhood --- in the hopes that she can reconcile with them, and that they might begin to reconcile with one another.

The book then circles back to the very beginning, to Ronni’s career, marriage and early motherhood, as well as to the childhoods and young adulthoods of her daughters. Nell, the oldest, is athletic and down to earth, until her high school sweetheart leaves her pregnant and brokenhearted. Now, in her early 40s, Nell is fulfilled by overseeing a Connecticut farm near her mother, but she has never found a romantic partner who can share her life with her.

Meredith, the quintessential middle child, always bristled under her mother’s incessant criticism, particularly of her weight and choice in clothes. As soon as Meredith was able, she moved about as far away from Connecticut as she could --- all the way to London. She once gave up on a career in art in favor of a more practical one in accounting, and she’s now engaged to be married to another accountant, the most handsome and accomplished man at her firm. So why does she feel so far away from “happily ever after”?

And then there’s Lizzy, the youngest, the one who is most like Ronni in terms of looks and temperament. She has an envious life as the host of exclusive supper clubs in New York City and the host of a television show on cooking and entertaining. But she’s secretly having an affair with her business partner even as she tries to make things work with her husband and their young son. Perhaps returning to Connecticut as her mother has requested will give Lizzy the opportunity for some perspective or even a fresh start.

As Green delves into each character’s back story and present-day predicaments, Ronni Sunshine --- quietly or not-so-quietly suffering while her daughters come to terms with her diagnosis --- necessarily fades into the background (which is not a place she’s accustomed to being). The novel, however, winds up being far more about the sisters’ relationships --- and their individual routes to fulfillment --- than it is about the mother-daughter dynamic, even if those childhood wounds are what continue affecting the sisters’ decisions in the present day.

For the most part, Green avoids predictable resolutions, leaving things just unresolved enough that readers will be able to spend their remaining beach hours or days speculating about how, exactly, things will end up for the Sunshine sisters.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 8, 2017

The Sunshine Sisters
by Jane Green

  • Publication Date: June 6, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0399583319
  • ISBN-13: 9780399583315