Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, A Daughter, and the People Who Raised Them—A Memoir by Amy Dickinson

Overall, I have no hesitation recommending this personable memoir to my own mother, daughter, aunts, girlfriends, and extended family.  Obviously there is a blatant female bias here, as the book centers on female family members coping with forms of abandonment by most male members.  Although this premise (lack of strong men) is the opposite of my life experience, it was easy to relate to the author's self-deprecating humor and her philosophical strength to eventually pull herself up from a failed marriage and keep moving forward.  She had a lot of help and support, exactly as the subtitle indicates.

Yet, it is exactly the title and subtitle that give me some problems with this memoir.  I expected to hear a lot about the mother, daughter, and the people in the hometown, yet the book is 90% about Amy, with about 5% her daughter and the remaining 5% all the other people.  The first third of the book was almost too much whine for me about the husband dumping Amy and asking for a divorce.  While I felt sorry for the author, after a while I thought, 'well, there are always two sides to a divorce story and we are only getting one here…so let's hear more about the "mighty queens" and how they helped out.'

There is a strong undercurrent in Mighty Queens of 'small town' vs. 'big city.' To survive in the corporate world, Amy must act like a big city girl, but to repair her own life, she finds defining strengths in small town values.  Comparing a big church in Washington, D. C., she writes that her hometown church "doesn't do communion very well but excels at community," and even though she attains success in her career by writing the column vacated by Ann Landers at the Chicago Tribune, she eventually finds happiness in her personal life in her hometown.

It was brave and bold of Ms. Dickinson to share her personal life with its ups and downs and to enliven the telling with a balance of humor (Pumpkin the cat is worth reading the book for) and seriousness (the impact of September 11, 2001).  I have a feeling there is a lot more she can share which will endear us to Freeville, the women, and dare I say--the men--who helped shore her up and who continue to help her life-journey.

"Reading…it's all personal."


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