I have always felt a kinship with Madonna largely because she was born in my home town, Bay City, Michigan. Her grandparents lived down by the Water Street train tracks, just like my father’s family—it was the poor part of town. I’ve followed her spectacular career with interest and was hoping for more new insights than I got from Life With My Sister Madonna, by Christopher Ciccone with Wendy Leigh. (Simon & Schuster, 2008).
Madonna is an icon so bizarrely and vastly famous that it’s difficult to generalize about the factors of her success, or to consider applying them to other individuals and circumstances. Ciccone, while an accessible narrator, seems unable throughout to determine whether to focus on his own story or that of his famous sister. He gives short shrift to their childhood years, when more attention paid to that period might have done better to illustrate the foundation of their emotionally close yet adversarial relationship (a caption to a photograph reads: “Her (Madonna) mugging and me annoyed, as usual”—yet we never read anything in the text proper regarding these respective patterns of behavior.) The passages of the book that recount his interactions with his controlling, capricious sister are, of course, the most riveting. Their mother having died when both were very young, Ciccone allows himself to become materially and emotionally dependent on Madonna, and keeps going back for more financial, professional and emotional near-abuse.
Not only because he needs the money. He is seduced by the glamour, and inextricably emotionally bound to a woman who he seems alternatively to view as a sister he longs desperately to be closer to, and as a narcissistic, insensitive villain. The author waffles between resenting the abuse and telling his sister off in letters, touching on themes that beg for further and more expert exploration.
In yearning to know more about Madonna and less about the author, his unusual career path (home designer, chef, dresser, dancer), his homosexuality and various relationships, I guess I was reinforcing the theme, only introduced toward the end of the book, that Ciccone had, and has, very little identity apart from his sister. It is only when their lives and work intersect that the book becomes entertaining, despite the fact that, evidenced by an included photo, Christopher was an adorable baby! Life With My Sister Madonna is an entertaining read—at least when that’s what the author is actually describing. Reader’s are also led to participate in determining for themselves how much of what Ciccone says is fact and how much is personal judgment on his part; he keeps saying “I’m not a drug addict,” but is continually detailing his pretty routine cocaine habits.
I know there’s little chance of it, but I’d still like to hear Madonna’s side.