Clara struggles to come to terms with her dying mother, famous for exploitative photos taken of Clara as a child.
Were Ruth Dunne’s exquisite nude photos of her younger daughter—who sensed the abuse but could never articulate it—permissible, as art, or were they an unforgivable act of exploitation? Shapiro (Family History, 2003, etc.) seems to draw on the controversy surrounding real-life photographers like Sally Mann, but she populates this interesting scenario with bluntly drawn characters. Clara Dunne is reduced to panic at any reminder of her mother’s photo shoots and her own unwelcome fame as the child star of the Clara Series. Fourteen years before the story opens, she fled New York and started a new life in Maine, as the wife of jeweler Jonathan and mother of Samantha. When Clara’s sister Robin phones with the news that Ruth is ill, Clara chooses to go back and help, but cannot bring herself to explain to Sam that she has a grandmother. Ruth has terminal cancer but hopes, before time runs out, to put together a book containing all the pictures that made her name. Clara is appalled all over again by this news. Back in Maine, however, Jonathan’s anger and Sam’s withdrawal force her to come clean with her own daughter. Now the family can return to New York, for a sequence of healing scenes. Sam sees some of the photos at MoMA and pronounces them cool. Robin, who has spent a lifetime feeling alone, grows closer to Clara. Ruth, on her deathbed and ruthless no more, asks forgiveness. And Clara celebrates the publication of the book.
Victimhood presented, as the title suggests, in stark terms, with only occasional flashes of insight.