Hyperion, 2009 (hardcover) (ISBN 1401322859 / 9781401322854)
Memoir, 240 pages
First sentence: 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.
Comments: When a friend at the Chicago Tribune told Amy Dickinson that the paper was going to launch a new advice column after the death of Ann Landers, and invited her to audition for the job, she was unsure of her qualifications for telling people how to solve their problems. However, when she thought about it more, she realized that her years of receiving advice of all kinds, asked for or not, from the women of her family gave her a vast repository of knowledge and experience to tap, and more than adequate preparation for the task at hand. Dickinson got the job, and has authored the nationally syndicated advice column “Ask Amy” since 2003. The job took her and her teenage daughter to Chicago, but their home – in heart, and in physical location every summer and as often as possible during the rest of the year – has remained the village of Freeville, New York, where they return each year to be surrounded by mother, sisters, aunts, and female cousins. Dickinson’s family is one where the men have tended not to stay in the picture, but the women, and the small town where most of them have remained, have been each other’s constants.
Dickinson’s not sharing advice in The Mighty Queens of Freeville; she’s just telling her own story – one of divorce and single parenthood, financial struggle and success, homes and pets and attempts at relationships. As a storyteller, she’s honest, engaging, and often very funny – she comes across as easy to relate to and like. There were quite a few lines in the book that made me chuckle, but the chapters about her various adventures in dating and her daughter’s developing comfort level with her “dorkitude” made me laugh out loud in several places. The book is relatively short in the first place, and Dickinson’s style makes it a quick read.
Ever since I first read about this book, it’s nagged at me that I should know where Freeville, N.Y. is – and it turns out that I do! Dickinson’s mentions of nearby Fall Creek reinforced that feeling, but it was her mention of her hometown paper, the Ithaca Journal, that confirmed it. Freeville is located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, not far from Cornell University in Ithaca; I worked at the university while my first husband was in graduate school there, and one of my co-workers lived in Freeville. Even by small-town standards, it’s a small town – but it’s Dickinson’s town, and her family’s. Speaking of her family, one other thing has nagged at me: Dickinson never refers to her ex-husband by name, but I hope that his last name is her daughter’s name too – or that she’s using a pseudonym for her daughter in the book. Otherwise, her daughter’s name is “Emily Dickinson.”
I don’t read the newspaper on a daily basis these days, and one of the things I miss about it is “Ask Amy.” I like her column, and that’s what interested me in this book. I feel that I know her better since reading it, and I liked learning about how her life experience shaped an advice columnist.
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