Five years ago, Amy Dickinson was tapped to replace the late Ann Landers as advice columnist for the Chicago Tribune. (Ann Landers had taken over the job from Chicago nurse Ruth Crowley.) Her syndicated column appears daily in more than 150 newspaper and is read by more than 22 million people. You would expect a woman who gives advice to so many to have something thoughtful to say about living and growing up, and in the Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, A Daughter and the People Who Raised Them, she talks about her life, her daughter and her family.
The book is very pleasant reading. Her stories about college and marriage and career were funny and charming. She talks about her habit of “failing up” – basically stumbling into a good opportunity just in the knick of time. She has lead an interesting life and her travels have always brought her home, to her mother, her aunts and the women in her family who have given her strength.
That is a theme in the book: the women in her family. Dickinson says that romance has not often gone well for the women around her. Her father walked out on the family when she was 12. Her husband deserted her for another woman when their daughter was just a toddler. She basically gave up on dating until her daughter was in college. She takes this all in stride and talks about the strength of the women in her family, the marvelous relationship she forged with her daughter, and the things that she accomplished on her own.
The book is nice; that’s the word that kept coming back to me. Nice stories about nice people. She seems like a genuinely nice woman and she keeps her pleasant demeanour even in the face of tragedy. But where is the anger? Maybe she is more enlightened than I will ever be, but if my husband showed up for our appointment with the marriage counselor, fresh from a European vacation with his new girlfriend, he wouldn’t become my ex-husband. He would likely become my late husband. Her father walks out on the family, they lose the farm and she has to watch a fellow high school student auction off the family goods, but the only grudge she carries is over the way he sold off the cows. She maintains a pleasant relationship, seeing him when he has a few minutes in his life for one of his children, with never an angry outburst. She lets her ex-husband get away with the same sort of occasional relationship with her daughter (the first thing he does after the divorce is move to Russia). I would be heartbroken about the marriage but furious about the cheating and the abandonment. She seems unruffled.
Maybe that ability to take things in stride, to let go and move on is what makes her a great advice columnist, but I found myself unaccountably irritated with the book. Setbacks and tragedies are whisked under the rug by the need to get on with your life, but it made everything seem very on-the-surface to me. It is full of charming stories about much the sort of small town I grew up in, but the introspection doesn’t go very deep. Still, a very pleasant afternoon read – pick up your copy of The Mighty Queens of Freeville at Amazon.com.