Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Mighty Queens of Freeville Glitters Like the Gem It Is

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


Advice columnist Amy Dickinson answers hundreds of questions every year. As Ann Landers' successor, she inherited all the juicy inquiries about etiquette, relationships, parenting, and every other subject under the sun. Of all the questions she's been asked, though, the most common is this: How do you know what you know? Her answer: "I have had a life blessed with incident" (7). From which incidents, exactly, did this woman glean all her knowledge? Try divorce, single motherhood, abandonment by her father, and dating as a middle-aged woman for starters. Should make for bleak reading, right? Nope. Not at all. Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, glows with warmth and humor. Through some very honest and very funny vignettes, she proves that a woman who is truly wise is one who can face her mistakes, laugh through her troubles, and find happiness in the most ordinary of places.

If you're hoping for a tell-all that will reveal the answers to your burning questions about the advice business (Seriously, are all the bizarre situations described in such columns for real?), then you're going to be disappointed. Dickinson talks a little shop, but not much. For the most part, her book focuses on how she learned to be strong enough to handle the crises life threw at her. So, what's her secret? An unfailing support system. Growing up in tiny Freeville, NY, a town full of family, Dickinson found herself constantly surrounded by a circle of aunts, cousins, sisters, nieces, etc. "Divorce," she explains, "runs through my family like an aggressive chromosome. (14)" As a result, her family is "large and loud and abnormally weighed down by women. (14)" And the men? "Well, the men are nice and fine and they love us for a time. Then at some point, it seems theat they tire of their indeterminate role in our lives, so they wage a campaign of passive resistance, and then they leave. (3)" From these broken homes rose a posse of women working, parenting and surviving on their own. When Dickinson's own marriage ended in divorce, these so-called "Mighty Queens of Freeville" embraced her and taught her how to endure.

Dickinson's stories hit on the importance of family unity; the joy of rearing a child; the strength of women; and more. The vignettes are loosely connected, mostly funny, sometimes poignant. Considering the subject matter, it should be a gloomier book, but it's not at all. It's a funny, upbeat ode to womanhood, motherhood and humanhood. I loved it.

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For some reason, I find this book hard to summarize, so I'm leaving you with a couple of passages that made me laugh:

On single parenthood ...

Doing everything yourself has a way of relaxing a person's standards. The kinds of things that drove me crazy during my marriage -- my husband's passive incompetence or indifference when it came to certain childrearing chores -- didn't seem quite so devastating when I was at fault. Undercooking macaroni, skipping a nap, not changing a diaper on time, or falling aslep during a bedtime story didn't seem like such a crime when I committed it. (40)

On taking over for Ann Landers ...

The Tribune took all of the audition columns and test-marketed them for groups of newspaper eaders. In every single test market, the result was the same: readers' first choice for an advice columnist was to bring Ann Landers back from the dead.

Once bringing Ann Landers back from the dead was ruled out as a possibility, it was decided I would do. (134)

On her cat, Pumpkin ...

Belying the stereotype of the cat as a finicky, careful eater, ours was a Hoover in a cat suit with no culinary standards. (112)

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See what I mean? The Mighty Queens of Freeville glitters like the gem it is. You won't want to miss it.

Grade: B+

1 comment:

  1. The cover looks familiar, I think they reveiwed this book in Good Housekepping?? Anyways I checked at my library , not there yet. Looks good.

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