“It was a nightmare,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen, of recording her collection of essays. “It was going on a 100-mile hike in the desert. It was physically exhausting. There are all kinds of ways you make unwanted noise, pop your “P”s. You can lose focus. I have so much respect for the people who do this.”
The process was also emotionally torturous for an author who doesn’t like to return to her own work. “There was a column in LOUD AND CLEAR about the anniversary of my mother’s death. And that one was really, really tough. I seized up. The only thing that made it worthwhile—and I suppose this is the key to the writer’s psyche—is that when I looked out, the producer and the tech guy had both seized up, too.”
Quindlen’s bestselling fiction has always been recorded by actresses. In this case, the author should be pleased since the Recorded Books production of her latest novel, RISE AND SHINE, had this reporter in tears. At first, the book seems to be built around Meghan Fitzmaurice, a TV host living at the apex of the priciest and most prestigious part of the priciest and most prestigious city in the world. Then it seems to be about Bridget, the maiden sister telling the story. She works in a neighborhood you’d pay big money to avoid. Even as Carol Monda is giving a virtuoso demonstration of the versatility of the human voice, Quindlen herself is making observations about the different ways her characters can sound. When the TV host is angry, Quindlen writes, “Meghan’s consonants were as hard as pebbles in her mouth.”
The title of the book, RISE AND SHINE , is the name of the wildly popular TV show Meghan works for and also Meghan’s signature opening line. “And every morning she greeted me with the words she used to wake me in the morning when we were kids,” observes her dramatically less successful sister. “She somehow made it mournful in the first few days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, and then changed it to defiant after week two.”
About her new book Quindlen says, “There was something about reading THE HOUSE OF MIRTH again, for what seemed liked the twentieth time, and writing a new introduction for it that made me want to write about the mores and manners of New York in the present, which are every bit as baroque and convoluted as those of Edith Wharton’s New York. That was the original impulse. Eventually my thoughts coalesced around someone who on the surface seems to be spectacularly successful and yet has these great holes in her life.”
Does Rise and Shine have a happy ending? “I think it has as happy an ending as any of my novels do, which is to say something really bad happens, which makes readers very upset, but there’s a kind of a resolution in which the lives of the key characters have moved forward and at some level prospered.”
Is the very public Meghan Fitzmaurice based on an actual TV personality, such as Katie Couric? Quindlen says, “Meghan isn’t based on anyone. I made Meghan up. Meghan is me. And Bridget is me, too. If you took a meat cleaver down the middle of my character and my life, Meghan would be on one half, and Bridget would be on the other half.
“That’s the whole great thing about being a novelist. It’s having multiple personality disorder and making it pay.”—Benjamin Cheever
© AudioFile 2006, Portland, Maine
Photo © Karen Cipolla
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