Though I’m a frequent NPR listener, I’ll admit that, prior to picking up The Mighty Queens of Freeville, I knew Amy Dickinson only from her “Ask Amy” column and not from her stints as a radio host. In fact, I hadn’t much thought about her other than on the passing occasion when I read her column in the paper and thought her more modern views provided a nice contrast to the more conservative Landers.
I’m not really a fan of the advice column these days, having moved past the teenage angst that made me a regular reader during my high school years. But I am a fan of memoirs, particularly ones that pull me in and keep me reading well past the time I should be asleep rather than just in bed. It’s particularly appropriate that I picked up this one while I was home on my recent visit.
Amy Dickinson literally goes home after her marriage falls apart, leaving her as the single mother of a toddler. She’s drawn to her small, upstate New York hometown. I understand the pull, though my own yearning for my home state hasn’t led me to abandon all and buy a rundown old house somewhere on Main Street just yet. Dickinson’s short book takes us through her grief over the loss of her marriage, her need to redefine herself as something other than a wife and mother, and her experiences right in the middle of the sandwich generation–raising children and taking care of elderly relatives. And she does it in a self-deprecating manner I found quite appealing, especially for someone who makes her living telling other people what they should do.
Dickinson describes herself as being adept at “failing up.” By the end of her tale, not only was I cheering on her efforts, but I had fallen in love with many of the people, and even the animals, she described. The stories are simple, but they ring true. Part of the notes on the cover flap says
…offering a moving testament to the many women who have led small lives of great consequence in a tiny place
That thought struck me. Many of us live small lives in the grander scheme of things. We may live and die without ever being famous, without ever becoming wealthy. But lack of such outer trappings doesn’t diminish the opportunity we all have to live lives of great consequence–to make a difference for the people we come across day in and day out, in our families and in our communities. The Mighty Queens of Freeville provided a reminder of that for me. After all, there could be worse fates than to be remembered as The Mighty Queen of Suburbia.