Dani Shapiro's latest novel makes this reviewer believe that children should use more care in choosing their parents. Her protagonist, Clara, certainly didn't pick the worst of the lot far from it but she did pick a mother who made much of her childhood uncomfortable. Ruth Dunne is a renowned photographer, and both mother and daughter had become infamous for Ruth's photographs of Clara naked and exposed in this Ruth resembles the photographer Sally Mann, who also used her own children as subjects. Because of Ruth's exploitation, Clara, who now lives happily in Maine with her artisan husband Jonathan and daughter Samantha, hasn't contacted her mother in years. Sam doesn't even know that her grandmother is alive. But now Ruth is dying, and Clara feels compelled to visit her, a decision that causes upheaval to her usually placid home life. While Clara is in New York tending to her mother and getting reacquainted with her affluent, put-upon sister Robin, the unraveled threads of her family of origin begin, slowly and painfully, to mend. Shapiro portrays this with compassion and humanity nobody's really a villain, though all of her characters are flawed. Clara, not surprisingly, can be self-absorbed, and Robin is prickly. Ruth may have objectified her daughter but genuinely loved her; her photos were inspired by Clara's beauty and innocence. Shapiro's empathy for children is also excellent; at a SoHo gallery opening, held when Clara was a child, Shapiro captures the apprehension of a little girl who stands about as high as the waistlines of the grown-ups around her, as well as her embarrassment at seeing, and watching other people see, overly intimate portraits of herself. Black &andamp; White is really about the shades of gray in human relationships.
Arlene McKanic writes from Jamica, New York.