The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson
Release date: 2009 / 225 pages
Synopsis (from jacket cover): Though divorce runs through her family like an aggressive chromosome, the women in her life taught her what family is about. They helped her to pick up the pieces when her life fell apart and to reassemble them into something new. It is a story of frequent failures and surprising successes, as Amy starts and loses careers, bumbles through blind dates and adult education classes, travels across the country with her daughter and their giant tabby cat, and tries to come to terms with the family’s aptitude for ‘dorkitude.’
First Line: One December day in the mid-1980′s, I looked out the front window of my mother’s house and watched my soon-to-be husband walking up the road.
Review: I spent my first free Sunday since before Christmas with Amy and her Mighty Queens of Freeville and loved every minute of it! As I’ve written in the past, memoirs are a tricky business. Either a person needs a remarkable story (The Glass Castle, anyone?) or should be an exceptional writer, otherwise I tend to wonder if the memoir really needed to be made public. I’m all for cathartic, therapeutic writing, I’m just not sure I need to be a part of the recovery process.
However, Dickinson is a delightful writer — not only is her sense of humor well-honed, but she has a light, yet thoughtful perspective on the joys and challenges of single parenting that I thoroughly enjoyed and think most women would, too — whether mothers or not. My sister has just embarked on the complex reality of single parenthood, and so Dickenson’s experiences and wisdom resonated intimately. For example:
When you’re a single parent, you’re often lonely, yet seldom alone. There is no backup and no spontaneous escape from parenthood — even for a minute.
Now Dickinson is not a recovering alcoholic, drug-addict, compulsive shopper, or sex addict. This is not a pruient peek into someone’s life that you thank God does not resemble your own. She is completely devoid of self-pity (fortunately) and truly loves her life. In fact, it is very easy to imagine loving Dickinson’s life — and we hope to be as sane, balanced, and well… happy as she manages to be. Her memoir is simply a lovely read on a sunny afternoon with a funny, understanding friend.
Which is probably why she has been successful as the “new” Ann Landers. For example, here is her take on learning to forgive her husband after he leaves her and her two year old daughter for his younger girlfriend:
I decided to forgive him, though it was way too soon to do so and I didn’t know if I was ready. But I decided to forgive him anyway. Forgiveness didn’t work the way I thought it would. First of all, it wasn’t a natural impulse, and even though in my life I have been a practicing Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian, forgiveness wasn’t quite the spiritual experience that I had been taught it would be. Forgiveness, it turned out, was a choice that I had to make, not to get him to come back, but in order to let him go. Whether it meant anything to my husband or if he even noticed it, I don’t know. That wasn’t the point.
Here’s Amy on her family (and a great example of her humor):
I come from a family of women who have a lot to say. In fact, my mother and her three sisters, Lena, Millie, and Jean, have been engaged in a conversation about nothing in particular that started in 1929. To successfully track a typical encounter with the four of them would require a team of linguists with clipboards and sensors, feeding streams of data into a supercomputer. Conversational categories include:
- Ancestor Trivia
- Politics and You
- Jellies and Preserves
- Movies, Books, and Popular Culture
- Law & Order (the television show)
- Pets: Dead or Alive
- Snow Removal
- Cold and Ice
Here’s Amy’s take on her small, northern New York town that serves as a homing signal she can’t quite escape — and doesn’t really want to:
By May, spring had finally come to Freeville, and the trees were smeared with peridot-colored leaves. Daffodils rose in clumps along the banks of Fall Creek. Our neighbor Dave had removed his shirt — Dave takes off his shirt on the first warm day and doesn’t put it back on until October. In Freeville, seeing Dave’s torso as he works in his yard is the first sign of spring. “Well, I see Dave’s shirtless — I guess it’s time to plant the flower boxes and get the bikes out of the barn,” my mother said.
And, I can’t help myself, here is one more example of why this memoir was such a delight. Amy is describing the first house she buys:
The house was tall and narrow. A cinder block chimney ran up its front. Two small casement windows poked through the upper floor like bloodshot eyes; a bowfronted and crookedly placed faux bay window stretched across part of the bottom floor. The house looked like a child’s drawing of a house if the child had no talent and was in a hurry. It was the equivalent of a guy who had gone on a bender and been kicked out of rehab. If this house had parents, they would have disowned it and moved to Buffalo, leaving no forwarding address.
So, in case you couldn’t tell from my copious quotes… I love this little memoir and whole-heartedly recommed it. Interested? Simply leave me a comment and I’ll choose a lucky winner! I’m sorry, but this time I’ll have to ask my winner to be a little patient since I loaned the book to my grandmother! But as soon as she finishes it, I will send it right along!