Until I became a book reviewer, I didn’t pay much attention to subtitles, but now I love a good subtitle in a non-fiction book. If one pays attention to it (and if it is accurately subtitled), it leaves little burden on me as a reviewer to describe the content.
This memoir from Amy Dickinson is a perfect example. The Mighty Queens of Freeville is indeed the story of “A Mother, a Daughter, and the Town That Raised Them.”
When Dickinson’s daughter was only a toddler, her husband left them — adding Amy to the group of women in her family for whom divorce seems to be a genetic flaw. Living across the ocean away from friends and family, she sees no other logical choice than to return home to the small town of Freeville, New York. In that town she is surrounded by the Mighty Queens including her mother, aunts, and sisters.
Dickinson is best known for her work on NPR and most recently as the author of “Ask Amy,” Dear Abby’s replacement column. In a way this book is more like a series of essays, touching on pets (in the home and on the farm), remodeling, aging, and of course divorce and single-parenting. The journalist in her comes through, and yet it is not written with detachment.
I’ve read memoirs about drug abuse and child abuse. Those are heavy topics, but somehow Dickinson’s thoughts on divorce seemed so much bracing and personal:
Prevailing is underrated. People have the idea that unless they win, they lose. But sometimes surviving is enough. My mother knew this, and I learned it by watching her (page 15).
People who say “I don’t like memoir,” or “I love memoir” (guilty), do not show a proper understanding of the genre. Just as novelists are characterized by different voices and themes, memoirs range from angry to bitter to shocking to funny to insightful to self-indulgent. Dickinson doesn’t fit firmly in any of these camps. Yes, I laughed out loud a few times. Other times my chest tightened with emotion. This is a “slice of life” memoir — not too sweet, and certainly not too bitter.
Managing Editor Jennifer Donovan also blogs at Snapshot about life with her tween daughter and preschool son.