Anna Quindlen 1953-
American journalist, essayist, children's writer, and novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Quindlen's career through 2004.
Quindlen first gained public attention as a columnist for the New York Times. Her distinctive style blends domestic concerns and politics and is a departure from the typical male-centered columns found on the op-ed page. As a novelist, Quindlen has used her journalist's eye for detail to explore family relationships and the details of everyday life.
Quindlen was born in Philadelphia to Catholic parents on July 8, 1953. Quindlen started her career in journalism as a reporter at the New York Post while she was still attending Barnard College. She continued to work there for two years after earning her B.A. in 1974. In 1977 Quindlen began working for the New York Times as a general assignment reporter. Later she covered City Hall until 1981, when she started writing the “About New York” column. From 1983 to 1985 she served as the deputy metropolitan editor until she decided to leave the newspaper to focus on raising her children and writing fiction. The executive editor persuaded her to continue to write for the paper, offering her a freelance column which evolved into the popular and widely syndicated “Life in the 30s” editorial. The column ran from 1986 to 1988, and in 1990, Quindlen began writing a bi-weekly “Public and Private” column on the op-ed page. She published her first novel Object Lessons in 1991, and in 1992 won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Quindlen left the New York Times in 1994 to pursue writing fiction full-time, but eventually returned to journalism in 1999 with a column for Newsweek.
Quindlen’s essays range from the personal to the political. Living Out Loud (1988) collects her “Living in the 30s” columns from the New York Times. These essays focus on Quindlen’s family life and domestic issues. Thinking Out Loud (1993) is comprised of her “Public and Private” columns, which maintain the personal outlook of her earlier work, but also focus on political and social issues. Some of the more controversial of these columns delineate Quindlen's differences with the Catholic Church. Raised as a Catholic, Quindlen describes her ambivalence toward Church doctrine and conservative teachings in these pieces. Her latest collections of columns, Loud and Clear (2004), is comprised of essays that explore homelessness, misogyny and sexual aggression, politics, gun control legislation, smoking, women's health issues, the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic church, and the war in Iraq.
Like the majority of her essays, Quindlen's novels focus on domestic life and family relationships. The heroine of Object Lessons is Maggie Scanlon, an adolescent girl growing up in an Irish-Italian Catholic family in the 1960s. The novel chronicles the elevating tensions between Maggie's parents during one summer season. One True Thing (1994) focuses on the story of Ellen Gulden, a reporter for a glamorous magazine in New York City. When her mother, Kate, is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ellen returns home to help take care of her. Initially resentful, Ellen bonds with her mother, confronts her philandering father, and comes to terms with her feelings about her family and her own nature. Black and Blue (1998) explores the topic of domestic violence. Fran Benedetto, the protagonist of the novel, flees from her violent husband with her ten-year-old son. After assuming new identities and settling in Florida, Fran reflects on the life she left behind and tries to create a new, happier existence. Blessings (2002) is set within a household of the same name where Lydia Blessing, an elderly woman, has lived since being banished by her family. Her narrow and reclusive life changes when her handyman finds a baby at the back door and, together, they care for the child.
Quindlen has been recognized as a compelling American author. Many reviewers have commended the personal nature of her writing and her unique voice. Some critics have found her female perspective a welcome addition to the New York Times Op-Ed page, while others accused her of failing to provide rational analysis of issues. A few reviewers have criticized the didactic tone of Quindlen's editorials, claiming that her voice is at times condescending to readers. Reviewers of Quindlen's novels have praised her strong characterization and realistic dialogue, attributing her abilities in these areas to her extensive journalistic experience. Moreover, commentators have extolled her complex depiction of familial relationships. Some critics, however, have derided Quindlen’s tendency to tie up the loose ends in her novels too neatly, maintaining that her endings can feel contrived.
Living Out Loud (journalism) 1988
Object Lessons (novel) 1991
Tree That Came to Stay [illustrations by Nancy Carpenter] (juvenilia) 1992
Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public and the Private (journalism) 1993
One True Thing (novel) 1994
Naked Babies [with Nick Kelsh] (essays) 1996
Happily Ever After [illustrations by James Stevenson] (juvenilia) 1997
Black and Blue (novel) 1998
How Reading Changed My Life (essays) 1998
Siblings [with Nick Kelsh] (essays) 1998
A Short Guide to a Happy Life (essays) 2000
Blessings (novel) 2002
Loud and Clear (essays and journalism) 2004
(The entire section is 80 words.)
SOURCE: Quindlen, Anna, and Marilyn Gardner. “Columnist Anna Quindlen.” Christian Science Monitor 80, no. 223 (13 October 1988): 21-2.
[In the following interview, Quindlen discusses women in the workplace, child care, and her future plans.]
Early in her third pregnancy, Anna Quindlen, the syndicated columnist, made an important decision.
Quindlen would not undergo amniocentesis, a medical procedure commonly performed on women over age 35 to determine the condition of the fetus.
She and her husband, she reasoned, were prepared to raise and love the baby, due in November, regardless of its physical or mental condition.
Later, when Quindlen wrote a column about her decision, the piece drew more mail than any she had written. Although she had expected a lively response from readers, she says she “didn't expect so much of the discussion and the distress to coalesce around me personally.”
One woman in particular rankled her by writing, “The Anna Quindlen I know would never have made this decision.”
“I was stomping around the kitchen,” Quindlen recalls, “and I said to my husband, ‘She doesn't even know me!’ He replied, ‘For 2[frac12] years you've given people permission to know you, and you've invited them into this house. You can't pull the plug now just because you don't like it.’”...
(The entire section is 1327 words.)
SOURCE: Fenichel, Marilyn. “Spokeswoman for Our Time.” Psychology Today 23, no. 4 (April 1989): 71.
[In the following review, Fenichel asserts that Quindlen's personal essays about being female work more effectively than her political ones in Living Out Loud.]
While reading Living Out Loud, I came across a section I found particularly pithy. Eager to share my find, I read it to my significant other. He listened closely, but when I read the punch line, I could tell by looking at his face that he just didn't get it.
The reason for his puzzlement is simple. Living Out Loud is really about being female, with its ambiguities and uncertainties as well as its joys and rewards. Adopted from Anna Quindlen's “Life in the Thirties” column in The New York Times, the book covers it all: mothering and the deaths of mothers, relationships with men and relating to women, religion, politics at home and outside, and a range of miscellany.
The result is a book that speaks loudly and clearly to middle-class women of similar age (Quindlen is 36) and educational background (she went to Barnard). The liability is that men may feel a bit left out. But despite this, the book is a joy to read, a testament to the old adage that what is most profound is found in the simple pleasures of everyday life.
Consider, for example, an early essay in the book,...
(The entire section is 537 words.)
SOURCE: Quindlen, Anna, and Sybil Steinberg. “Anna Quindlen.” Publishers Weekly 238, no. 13 (15 March 1991): 40-1.
[In the following interview, Quindlen discusses her career and her first novel, Object Lessons.]
To reach Anna Quindlen's office at the New York Times one walks down a corridor past doors identified with discreet brass plaques: Arthur Gelb, Tom Wicker, Russell Baker. Neat and composed, with a serious, direct gaze, Quindlen ushers PW into her spacious digs, with a wall of windows affording an enviable view of midtown Manhattan. “They were very careful to let me know that my office was the same size as Russell Baker's,” Quindlen says, her cool suddenly replaced by an impish smile. “I wanted to say, ‘Hey, guys, I'll be happy as long as I have a wastebasket!’”
As readers of her syndicated op-ed column, “Public and Private,” in the Times are well aware, Quindlen is a no-nonsense person who tempers gravity with humor and righteous indignation with forbearance, qualities she previously demonstrated in her “Life in the '30s” columns in the Times's style section. Quindlen tackles the basic questions of life with trenchant and sensitive insight; she has a gift for turning the quotidian into the existential, the mundane into the meaningful. What distinguishes her commentary is not so much that it is intelligent and courageous, but...
(The entire section is 2140 words.)
SOURCE: McDaniel, Maude. “Anna Quindlen Writes a Wise Coming-of-Age Novel.” Chicago Tribune Books (21 April 1991): 6.
[In the following review, McDaniel praises Quindlen for her portrayal of adolescence and loss and for vivid characterization in Object Lessons.]
Adolescence is widely held these days to be a traumatic experience, and Anna Quindlen's first novel clearly supports the theory. On the other hand, although it closes with the thought that “our whole lives are puberty … we have to grow up again and again,” Object Lessons adds to that insight the possibility that, out of the turmoil, lessons can be learned and advances secured.
Quindlen first caught the public eye with the psychological acuity and wry reflection of her “Life in the 30s” articles in the New York Times and subsequent syndicated columns. She brings the same gifts to her fictional debut, along with a considerable skill for organizing them into a perceptive and appealing account of one summer in the life of Maggie Scanlon, age 12 going on 13, idol of her Irish grandfather's eye, felt to be a kindred spirit by her Italian grandfather and a vulnerable witness not only to her own growing pains but also to those of father, mother, cousins and friends, not to mention an aunt or two and assorted other acquaintances.
In this late 1960s summer, the marriage of Maggie's parents,...
(The entire section is 721 words.)
SOURCE: See, Carolyn. “A Back-Yard Story Mired in the Morass.” Los Angeles Times (22 April 1991): E2.
[In the following review, See concludes that while much of Quindlen's Object Lessons is contrived, Quindlen exhibits a willingness to create horrible female characters.]
In the suburban town of Kenwood, just on the northern border of the Bronx, Maggie Scanlon grows up as a de facto half-caste. Her mother, Constance, is a gorgeous Italian Catholic. Maggie's maternal grandfather still survives as a gardener-caretaker in a lush Italian-Catholic cemetery. But Connie has married “up” into the huge Irish-Catholic Scanlon family. That grandfather, driven by greed and acquisitiveness, has made a very sizable fortune selling everything from cement to sacred vestments for Mass—vestments churned out in total squalor, over in the Philippine Islands, by overworked young girls in dreadful sweatshops.
It is Grandfather Scanlon's good pleasure to keep his extended family jumping through hoops—making them do every exact thing on earth he can think of for them to do. One of his daughters, Margaret, has escaped his grasp by becoming a nun. The rest of his children, all sons, sullenly do what their father tells them to do, except for Tommy, who, in a moment of love and rebellion, married the beautiful Connie.
These are Catholics, so by the time young Maggie hits...
(The entire section is 682 words.)
SOURCE: Lehrman, Karen. “She the People.” New Republic 204, no. 23 (10 June 1991): 38-41.
[In the following review, Lehrman notes the limitations on Quindlen's brand of writing, both in her novel Object Lessons and in her columns.]
For nearly three years devoted readers turned weekly to Anna Quindlen's “Life in the 30's” column in “The Living Section” of The New York Times for updates on her life (lawyer husband, two sons, Victorian rowhouse in Hoboken), reflections on her past (Catholic schooling, mother's death), and her feelings about being female. Quindlen was the thirtysomething girl next door, chatting about the ordinary and often intimate details of her life. The column was continually praised for its honesty, ingenuity, and courage, and when it stopped running in 1988 her fans wrote letters expressing hurt, anger, betrayal.
But she needed a break; covering herself was “emotionally exhausting.” So she had another baby and wrote a novel. The Times, however, wanted Quindlen back, this time on its op-ed page, twice a week, discussing the issues of the day. The new column is called “Public & Private,” and though it doesn't seem to have yet developed the soap-operatic following of its predecessor, it is widely read. Once again Quindlen is perceived as a fresh voice, a counterpoint to the stuffy, often abstract political analysis of her...
(The entire section is 3177 words.)
SOURCE: Grossman, Judith. “Free Spirits.” Women's Review of Books 8, nos. 10-11 (July 1991): 40.
[In the following excerpt, Grossman lauds the authenticity of place in Quindlen's Object Lessons but criticizes the author's tendency to put everything in order at the end of the novel.]
The girl child, a heroine of strong character and candid speech, has been a presence in fiction ever since Jane Eyre and Alice in Wonderland. And these two first novels by Deirdre McNamer and by New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen demonstrate her perennial vitality, just at a moment when the psychological studies of Carol Gilligan and others are focusing on a peak in girls' self-confidence that precedes the clamping-down of social and cultural pressures at puberty. In the tradition of a sharing of subjects and insights between fiction and psychology, Rima in the Weeds and Object Lessons each celebrate a child's freedom—and each in a different way makes her confront the problem of the adult woman's confinement in a world of men.
Anna Quindlen's central character, thirteen-year-old Maggie Scanlon, asserts her autonomy by defining a territory separate from that of Connie, her mother: “The house belonged to Connie. Kenwood, with its scuffed baseball field and its narrow creek and its ring of tousled fields, was Maggie's home.” As much wilderness as this...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
SOURCE: Quindlen, Anna, and Alexander M. Santora. “Anna Quindlen: From the '60s to the '90s.” Commonweal 119, no. 3 (14 February 1992): 9-13.
[In the following interview, Quindlen discusses the role of a columnist, the relationship between her life and her work, and her relationship with the Catholic Church.]
[Santora]: Where did you grow up?
[Quindlen]: I was born in Philadelphia. My mother was from South Philadelphia, which was predominantly Italian; my father was from West Philadelphia, which was predominantly Irish. I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia called Drexel Hill.
What prompted you to come to Hoboken?
My husband is a New Jersey native. He went to Rutgers' Law School and knew he was going to practice law here and didn't like the idea of being a carpetbagger. I love New York City. I think it's the center of the universe. I would never live anywhere else if I had my druthers. This was the closest I could get to living in New York City. So that's how we wound up here. My two older children go to private school in Manhattan and their sister will follow them soon.
Why did you choose that?
Public school is not an option for us here because I don't think the public schools are good enough. There are some nice private schools in Hoboken. But I really felt that the private schools...
(The entire section is 4539 words.)
SOURCE: Eastland, Terry. “Booby Prize.” American Spectator 25, no. 6 (June 1992): 42-3.
[In the following essay, Eastland delineates the flaws in Quindlen's column writing.]
Now that Anna Quindlen of the New York Times has won herself a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, there's one more reason to grant her lifetime membership in the Current Wisdom section of this magazine. But an event that is good for The American Spectator is not necessarily good for the country or the press—or for women, whom I bring up because it is on their behalf that Quindlen claims to speak. As she said in a Commonweal interview this past February, having “51 percent of the readers is pretty good.”
The Pulitzer Prize is the one award journalists truly esteem among the many they bestow upon themselves. Quindlen's prize not only confirms the New York Times in its decision two years ago to relocate her from the “Living” section, where she wrote “Life in the 30s,” a weekly column about herself, to the op-ed page as a commentator on things “Public & Private.” It also sends a message to newspapers everywhere about what passes for excellence in opinion writing, especially when women are at the keyboard. No, make that only when Quindlen-like women are at the keyboard, for no male (with the possible exception of the Washington Post's Quindlen clone Andrew...
(The entire section is 1551 words.)
SOURCE: Woodward, Kenneth L. “A Visit to Quindlenland.” Commonweal 120, no. 10 (21 May 1993): 17-19.
[In the following review, Woodward argues that Quindlen does not provide facts to support her assertions in the columns collected in Thinking Out Loud.]
The eighty-seven pieces collected [in Thinking Out Loud] are culled from Anna Quindlen's op-ed columns in the New York Times, written between 1990 and 1992, and for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary last year. To these she has added not only an introduction about herself and her approach to column writing, but also prefaces to each of the book's four sections explaining what she's up to—in case, I suppose, we just don't get it.
In her introduction, Quindlen reflects on her life and good fortune as a journalist. She is up-front about why she thinks she was hired, at the age of twenty-four, by the Times. It was, she says, “because I was a woman.” She took her subsequent responsibilities as a columnist (first in the “Home” section) as mandate to practice her singular form of genderized journalism. She thinks the media substitutes for long-vanished “back fences.” But back fences were for gossip. The media is what we have because we no longer have public squares, or even cafes, places where citizens would meet to discuss issues of civic concern in a civilized manner. They were,...
(The entire section is 1429 words.)
SOURCE: Steinfels, Margaret O'Brien. “Drawing Lines: Quindlen, Kissling and Us.” Commonweal 121, no. 1 (14 January 1994): 5-6.
[In the following essay, Steinfels discusses Quindlen's relationship with the Catholic Church and Commonweal's coverage of her disagreements with the Church.]
Two years ago, Commonweal published an interview with Anna Quindlen. Alex Santora's friendly, almost pastoral, conversation with the New York Times's premiere woman columnist (February 14, 1992) led to accusations of soft-ball questions and several canceled subscriptions. Last spring we ran a review (May 21, 1993) by Kenneth Woodward of Ms. Quindlen's essays, Thinking Out Loud. Some readers took indecent pleasure in it and others found it mean. Several more cancellations followed.
“What is this love/hate relationship you guys have with Anna Quindlen?” asked one of our remaining readers.
Did “we guys” have a love/hate relationship with Anna Quindlen? Or did her fellow Catholics, our readers?
When she wrote her weekly “In the Thirties” column, Anna Quindlen had sensible and witty views of husbands, children, and the domestic environs; the one Times voice on family life not in thrall to Anna Freud or Planned Parenthood. She subsequently moved to her present perch, “Public and Private” on the op-ed page, where her...
(The entire section is 1294 words.)
SOURCE: Dorris, Michael. “Finding Truth as Death Looms.” Los Angeles Times (25 August 1994): E6.
[In the following review, Dorris lauds Quindlen's One True Thing for its interesting plot and satisfying ending.]
What a treat to read a good story told by a smart, if not always likable, narrator. We meet Ellen Gulden, the young woman at the heart of Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen's provocative second novel [One True Thing] (the best-selling Object Lessons was her first), soon after she's graduated from Harvard and taken a magazine job in New York.
The brightest and eldest of three children, she has always seen herself and been seen by others as her English professor father's clone—literate, ironic, ambitious—rather than her homemaker mother's daughter. Her life to date has been one academic triumph after another, your basic 99 percentile on the SATs type-A personality. She's used to being in control, used to pleasant surprises, used to success.
And then her mother gets cancer. Her mother, Kate, whom Ellen has always regarded with affectionate condescension. Her mother the famous decorator of community Christmas trees. Her mother the why-buy-it-when-you-can-make-it craftsperson. Her mother the indestructible domestic.
Ellen complies with great resentment to her father's demand that she relocate back home to...
(The entire section is 835 words.)
SOURCE: See, Carolyn. “A Lesson in Dying.” Washington Post (23 September 1994): F1.
[In the following review, See calls Quindlen's One True Thing “a hypnotically interesting novel, straight and plain, and very lovable.”]
People may get lost in the gruesome topicality of what happens in One True Thing. Don't many of us have parents who are looking peaked, acting as if they might die? And isn't their demand, “When I get too sick to take care of myself, I want you to be the one to give me the pills, the seductive combination of vodka, morphine, Nembutal etc., because there's no one else I can trust to do it”? My own mother has always been insistent on this point, and I answer sourly that she'd be having her cake and eating it too: She'd be mercifully released, and I'd get to spend the rest of my life in the slammer.
A dear friend of mine, when he thought he would be dying soon, suggested about once a day that he expected his daughters to take him out to the Mojave Desert, prop him up against some greasewood, hand him a gallon of Stolichnaya and a gallon of water then drive away, leaving him to dehydrate into a mummy. Fine for him, but what about those daughters of his? So it's easy to get caught up in what to do about aging parents, and the pros and cons of mercy killing. But the real question this novel poses is: Which is it better to be, good or smart? And, in a...
(The entire section is 947 words.)
SOURCE: Thomas, Rosanne Daryl. “Tender Is the Heart.” Chicago Tribune Books (25 September 1994): 3.
[In the following review, Thomas asserts that Quindlen fails to deliver in the second half of One True Thing, but shows signs of becoming a first-rate novelist.]
In One True Thing, Anna Quindlen's second novel and the book that inspired its author to give up her job as a nationally syndicated New York Times columnist and devote herself to the writing of fiction, Ellen Gulden is relatively fresh out of Harvard and sure of what she wants, with the cocksureness of those whom life has not yet tested. Ellen has a plum magazine job, a fast-track law student for a boyfriend and an apartment in Manhattan. She lives a train ride, and worlds, away from the suffocating intimacy of her hometown and likes it that way.
Ellen considers herself her father's daughter and absolutely not her mother's. Father is alluringly distant, a professor of English who seems to have an opinion and a literary reference for most occasions. He demands a brilliant performance and gets one. Mama lives through the good she does for others. She is a wholehearted homemaker who “drove us to swimming lessons and taught us to string stale cranberries for the Christmas tree and scolded us for using vulgar language and laughed at our knock-knock jokes.” Like many bright, ambitious young women, when she...
(The entire section is 1133 words.)
SOURCE: MacLachlan, Suzanne L. “A Mother's Struggle, A Daughter's Sacrifice.” Christian Science Monitor 86, no. 234 (27 October 1994): 13.
[In the following review, MacLachlan concludes that the second half of Quindlen's One True Thing falters and that the author is best when she focuses on the relationship between the mother and daughter.]
About the time that her second novel, One True Thing, was published, Anna Quindlen announced she was giving up her job as a nationally syndicated columnist for the New York Times to devote herself full time to fiction writing. Quindlen is expected to leave her job at the end of the year, and though her columns will undoubtedly be missed, fiction readers have reason to celebrate.
As a columnist, Quindlen is known for tackling tough, often deeply personal topics with compassion and insight. If One True Thing is any indication, we can expect the same of her future novels.
One True Thing is, at its core, the story of a mother and daughter. The daughter, the novel's narrator, is 24-year-old Ellen Gulden, smart, overly ambitious, always trying to live up to her English professor father's expectations, and a bit scornful of her old-fashioned mother.
The mother is Kate Gulden, a homemaker, family peacemaker, and nurturer, who is dying of cancer. At her father's command, Ellen gives up...
(The entire section is 643 words.)
SOURCE: Bowman, James. “A Rose for Anna.” New Criterion 13, no. 6 (February 1995): 58-62.
[In the following review, Bowman provides a scathing review of Quindlen's last column in the New York Times.]
She disappeared in the dead of winter. Just when we needed her most, she was gone. In the month after the election she showed what she might have made of the Newt World Order, had she been spared to us. She prayed for the health of Al Gore (why not Bill Clinton, I wonder?) lest, catastrophe having overtaken the president and vice president, the country's chief magistracy should devolve on Mr. Gingrich, whom she characterized as going “straight for the neck flesh, calling names, talking trash, practicing his patented brand of ‘I'm-O.K.-You're-Scum’ attack politics.” But even as she herself was calling names at the neck flesh, the mood turned elegiac. The true significance of November 8th, she opined, was that “this country lost its two most compelling and charismatic political figures when Mario Cuomo was rejected by the voters of New York and Ann Richards by those in Texas.”
Heavy losses, no doubt, but not nearly so heavy as the loss of Anna Quindlen from the op-ed page of The New York Times. We the connoisseurs of journalistic bibblebabble and huftymagufty can all agree that the day that Anna Q retired to pursue a career in writing fiction was a dark cold day. The...
(The entire section is 3365 words.)
SOURCE: Leland, Elizabeth. “An Easy Switch from Columns to Fiction.” Nieman Reports 49, no. 1 (spring 1995): 65.
[In the following review, Leland praises Quindlen's style in One True Thing, but points to a few of the novel's weaknesses as well.]
When I heard that Anna Quindlen decided to write novels full-time, charging confidently into a new career that many journalists dare only dream about, my first thought was: can she pull this one off, too? If One True Thing is any indication, the answer is as clear as her writing style: “yes.”
Yes, she switches from fact to fiction as easily as she switched from New York Times columnist to stay-at-home mom after the birth of her second son. Yes, she abandons the formula of journalism for descriptive, sometimes powerful, prose. And yes, she weaves a tale that's both captivating and convincing.
The publication of One True Thing coincided with Quindlen's much-talked-about decision to leave The Times. This time, for good. She won a Pulitzer and stood first in line for a top job at The Times. Why not try something different? She said she liked this second novel so much, she felt confident about her decision. And well she should.
Her narrator is twenty-four-year-old Ellen Gulden, who quits her job to care for her dying mother, and then is charged with mercy killing....
(The entire section is 961 words.)
SOURCE: Gardner, Marilyn. “Fugitive Life of a Battered Wife: Details of a Home Torn Apart.” Christian Science Monitor 90, no. 53 (11 February 1998): 15.
[In the following review, Gardner provides lukewarm praise for Quindlen's Black and Blue.]
When Anna Quindlen was mapping the social landscape of late-20th-century America as a columnist for The New York Times, she wrote regularly about domestic violence. With a blend of compassion and outrage, she gave eloquent voice to a sisterhood of women who remain largely silent and invisible.
Now, in her third novel, Black and Blue, Quindlen has turned those real-life women into a courageous fictional heroine, Fran Benedetto, a 38-year-old Brooklyn nurse. After enduring years as “a punching bag and marionette” in the hands of her husband, Bobby, a policeman, Fran flees, taking the couple's 10-year-old son, Robert, with her. She is aided by an underground network of nameless volunteers who help abused women establish “new lives in new places” and “start over in the great expansive anonymous sameness of America.”
For Fran and her son, those new lives bring new identities—Beth and Robert Crenshaw—and a new address in a dusty central Florida town, Lake Plata. Their dingy garden apartment is so small that Beth needs only a single gallon of butter-yellow paint to cover the living room walls....
(The entire section is 610 words.)
SOURCE: Quindlen, Anna, and Kim Campbell. “Speaking Freely about Her Latest Novel.” Christian Science Monitor 90, no. 53 (11 February 1995): 15.
[In the following interview, Quindlen discusses her new novel Black and Blue and how her writing has improved.]
In person, former columnist Anna Quindlen is much like she is in print: forthright, thoughtful, and often funny.
She is game to discuss most anything—the president's problems, the reading habits of her children, the movie version of her book One True Thing.
But what she talks most freely about these days is her third novel, Black and Blue, and what it's been like writing fiction full time since leaving The New York Times three years ago.
“I think I've gotten good at it,” she says over breakfast during a promotional swing through Boston. “I think this is a good novel. And I think it's a better novel than One True Thing, and I think One True Thing is a better novel than Object Lessons.”
Her passion for fiction—writing it and reading it—is readily apparent. A conversation with her is peppered with titles and authors: Toni Morrison, Anita Brookner, Ayn Rand. Her eye for detail, she says, came from reading her favorite, Charles Dickens, and years of newspaper work.
“As a reporter you just have this...
(The entire section is 826 words.)
SOURCE: Linfield, Susie. “From Discord, a Wife Makes a Nice New Life—Too Nice.” Los Angeles Times (4 March 1998): E6.
[In the following review, Linfield asserts that while Quindlen's Black and Blue is well-paced, the novel remains too glib and predictable.]
In her column “Public and Private,” which ran in the New York Times for five years and won a Pulitzer Prize, Anna Quindlen exemplified the essence of a very nice feminist. She consistently took positions that were reasonable and fair, arguing in favor of justice and equality. But hers was a feminism that was essentially safe—for cozy suburbanites, for corporate profits, for life as we know it. She wanted to tinker with the world, not transform it.
In her new novel [Black and Blue], Quindlen takes on a subject that is anything but nice: domestic violence. This is the story of Fran Benedetto, a working-class woman from Brooklyn who, after years of being beaten bloody by her husband, Bobby, takes off with her beloved 10-year-old son, Robert, in tow. With the help of an underground railroad for battered women, she flees to Lake Plata, Fla., a place where there is “no town, really, just a collection of strangers ranged around a commercial strip.” There, under an assumed name and with a new identity, she attempts to forge a new life.
Quindlen's telling of this tale is expertly paced...
(The entire section is 702 words.)
SOURCE: Fennell, Frank L. Review of Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen. America 178, no. 20 (6 June 1998): 25-6.
[In the following review, Fennell offers a mixed assessment of Black and Blue.]
“Pulitzer Prize-winner”—it is a phrase she rather likes, Anna Quindlen admitted once during a television interview. And well she should—first, because she has earned it, for her earlier New York Times column “Public & Private,” and, second, because the chief virtue of her fiction writing is the ability to dramatize an issue in a way similar to the impassioned essays that first brought her to our attention.
Black and Blue, Quindlen's third novel, is the first-person narrative of Fran Benedetto, a 38-year-old nurse and mother and frequent victim of the brutal violence inflicted on her by her husband, Bobby, a New York City police detective. For years Bobby, in his periodic fits of rage, has cursed, slapped, choked, kicked and punched Fran. She has suffered a gruesome list of injuries: broken nose, broken jaw, cracked collarbone, broken ribs, countless bruises and contusions. Finally, in desperation, she flees. Aided by a nameless organization that helps battered women escape and set up new identities, she arrives in Lake Plata, Fla., with her 10-year-old son, Robert, plus a new name, a new age, a new appearance and a new profession. But the past is not so easily...
(The entire section is 918 words.)
SOURCE: McLellan, Faith. “Where the Bruises and Hurts Live On.” Lancet (27 June 1998): 1970.
[In the following review, McLellan concludes that Quindlen's gifts as a columnist have served her well in Black and Blue.]
In the hospital I'd learned that there are really two kinds of people in the world, people who go hard and efficient in times of terrible trouble, and the ones … who scream, shriek, go limp, sink to the floor, become patients themselves.” Fran Benedetto, the nurse who is the protagonist of Anna Quindlen's compelling novel [Black and Blue], has, after years of physical abuse by her New York cop husband, Bobby, gone hard and efficient, has taken their 10-year-old son, Robert, and vanished. She has allowed herself to be spirited away from everything she knows, to begin again, with a different job, an invented past, and a future as Elizabeth Crenshaw, in Lake Plata, Florida, a generic, anonymous town where she hopes her husband will never find her. The people who secretively rescued her and created her new biography have coached her on the many things she must now remember—a new Social Security number, a made-up former life in a place where she never was, with an accountant husband who never existed. But it is harder to let go of the many things she must also now forget: her family, her career, and all that was happily familiar. The unpredictable terrors will now be replaced by...
(The entire section is 627 words.)
SOURCE: Russell, Margaret. “Fighting Back.” Women's Review of Books 15, nos. 10-11 (July 1998): 22-3.
[In the following excerpt, Russell praises Quindlen for creating the right tone for her novel Black and Blue.]
Images and themes of women and violence are an easy sell in popular culture. Through the reporting of rapes on the evening news to the hairpulling slugfests on the Jerry Springer Show to the numbing array of “slasher” novels and movies, violence in the everyday lives of women comes to seem both ubiquitous and unremarkable. Violence against, as well as by, women is often depicted not to illuminate its influence, but to shock, titillate and entertain. Only with the emergence of female narratives of violence can we begin to recognize the wide range of reactions to the real brutality and chaos that permeate many women's experiences of the world. Three new novels offer intriguing—and divergent—perspectives on this always timely subject.
Of the three, Black and Blue is the grimmest and most explicit reminder of the quotidian nature of violence in the lives of many women. Anna Quindlen is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist most widely noted for her New York Times columns “Life in the 30's” and “Public & Private.” Her nonfiction commentaries for the Times in the 1980s and early 1990s were characterized by succinct, trenchant...
(The entire section is 1238 words.)
SOURCE: Risedorph, Kim. Review of Siblings, by Anna Quindlen. Christian Science Monitor 91, no. 6 (3 December 1998): 18.
[In the following review, Risedorph provides a favorable assessment of Siblings, Quindlen's collaboration with photographer Nick Kelsh.]
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Anna Quindlen and renowned photographer Nick Kelsh collaborated before on their bestseller Naked Babies. In this newest work, they reveal the naked truth about siblings.
In 60 captivating black-and-white photos, Kelsh reveals the many sides of the sibling relationship—the fun, the fights, and the friendships.
In her text, Quindlen exposes the light and the darkness that surround these relationships. She recalls her personal experiences as a sister and as a mother for stories of how children grow up together.
For contrast, she draws on the work of Jane Austen, Gary Larson, Anne Frank, and others who have described brothers and sisters.
Four essays explore the sibling relationship, the role of the baby in the family, the differences between siblings, and the supersister—the one who takes on the role of substitute mother.
With her characteristic tenderness, honesty, and humor, Quindlen admits that the only person she has ever beaten up (more than once) is her brother, Bob. Yet as both a child and an adult, there...
(The entire section is 243 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Blessings, by Anna Quindlen. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 34 (26 August 2002): 41.
[In the following review, the critic argues that Quindlen's Blessings offers convincing dialogue, strong characterization, and a dramatic plot.]
Venturing into fictional territory far from the blue-collar neighborhoods of Black and Blue and other works, Quindlen's immensely appealing new novel [Blessings] is a study in social contrasts and of characters whose differences are redeemed by the transformative power of love. The eponymous Blessings is a stately house now gone to seed, inhabited by Mrs. Blessing, an 80-year-old wealthy semirecluse with an acerbic tongue and a reputation for hanging on to every nickel. Widowed during WWII, Lydia Blessing was banished to her socially prominent family's country estate for reasons that are revealed only gradually. Austere, unbending and joyless, Lydia has no idea, when she hires young Skip Cuddy as her handyman, how her life and his are about to change. Skip had promise once, but bad companions and an absence of parental guidance have led to a stint in the county jail. When Skip stumbles upon a newborn baby girl who's been abandoned at Blessings, he suddenly has a purpose in life. With tender devotion, he cares secretly for the baby for four months, in the process forming a bond with Mrs. Blessing, who discovers and admires his clandestine...
(The entire section is 296 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Blessings, by Anna Quindlen. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 17 (1 September 2002): 1258.
[In the following review, the critic provides a lukewarm assessment of Quindlen's Blessings.]
[Blessings is the] fourth adult novel from Newsweek columnist Quindlen (Black and Blue, 1998, etc.), a story of lost souls redeemed by love.
A friend of Lydia Blessing once told her that there was a secret at the heart of every family and—predictably—it's revealed that the Blessing family had dark secrets to spare. Eighty years old when the story begins, Lydia lives more in the past than present, haunted by memories. Her handsome, ne'er-do-well, secretly homosexual brother Sunny was a shotgun suicide; and Lydia's long-ago marriage to Sunny's best friend Ben Carton was a sham (madly in love with Sunny, Ben obligingly married his sister, though she was pregnant by another man, then conveniently died in WWII). Her charming father had evidently married her cold and disapproving mother mostly for money, and it turns out that Ethel Blessing, to all appearances a staunch Episcopalian, was actually Jewish. The family shuttled between Blessings, the enormous house on the vast New England estate that her father called his gentleman's farm, and a Manhattan townhouse. Lydia and her brother attended the right schools, wore the right clothes, socialized with the right people,...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
SOURCE: Harris, Michael. “All in the Family.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (22 September 2002): 13.
[In the following review, Harris offers a positive assessment of Blessings.]
A teenager drives his girlfriend one night to a rich widow's estate outside a small New England town. They leave a box containing a newborn baby, which is found the next morning by the young caretaker, Skip Cuddy. Skip, who has served time in jail and was abandoned by his own father, isn't inclined to turn the infant girl over to what he considers a callous foster-care system. He names her Faith and tries to raise her himself, in secret.
The estate is called Blessings, and it doesn't take any special alertness to suspect that Anna Quindlen's fourth novel [Blessings] (after Object Lessons, One True Thing and Black and Blue) is going to deliver a heartwarming story. Which it does. What surprises us is that good things happen not just to Skip and the baby but to the widow, Lydia Blessing, who has lived on the estate for 50 years and is mummified by the routine she has imposed to keep time and change at bay.
Lydia's father pretended to be rich when the money was really his wife's. Her mother was Jewish and hid this fact by posing as the crustiest of Episcopalians. Her beloved brother, Sunny, committed suicide. The father of Lydia's only child was an older, married...
(The entire section is 714 words.)
SOURCE: McMichael, Barbara Lloyd. “Blessings Sewes Up Faith, Hope.” Seattle Times (6 October 2002): L10.
[In the following review, McMichael lauds Quindlen's realistic dialogue and characterization and her portrayal of emotion in Blessings.]
The timeworn admonition to “count your blessings” takes on profound new dimensions in a moving new novel by Anna Quindlen.
The author already has forged a reputation for putting her finger on the pulse of the American condition, both in her Pulitzer Prize-winning columns and in her long-form works of fiction and nonfiction, which include A Short Guide to a Happy Life and One True Thing. Quindlen's latest effort, Blessings, is a celebration of second chances, an affirmation that regrets can be taken as lessons, not life sentences.
The title derives from the name of the estate owned by octogenarian Lydia Blessing. She had been a mere girl when her father bought the place as a retreat from their city home “and lavished money on it in the years when he had money to spend.”
Later, as a young war widow, she was discreetly banished there when she gave birth to a baby who clearly bore no resemblance to her dead husband. Now she is living out the end of her days in relative isolation at Blessings, with only her grouchy Korean cook Nadine and her new caretaker Skip Cuddy for company....
(The entire section is 673 words.)
SOURCE: Seaman, Donna. Review of Loud and Clear, by Anna Quindlen. Booklist 100, no. 11 (1 February 2004): 930-31.
[In the following review, Seaman offers a positive assessment of Loud and Clear.]
In her first retrospective essay collection since Thinking Out Loud (1993), best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Quindlen continues to unscramble gnarly social issues [in Loud and Clear] with splendid clarity and pithiness, wit and compassion, and uncommon common sense. As always, the autobiographical energizes her persuasive arguments and sense of justice, and Quindlen writes with her signature candor about her children's metamorphoses into young adults, her decision to give up her prestigious New York Times column to write novels, including Blessings (2002), her felicitous return to journalism as the back-page columnist for Newsweek, and her experiences of September 11 and its aftermath. So true is Quindlen's moral compass, and so lucid, vital, and forward-looking are her insights, that her opinion pieces not only stand the test of time but also provide an invaluable gauge of where we've been and where we're going. Here are probing essays about “overscheduled” children and homeless children, the tremendous advances women have achieved and the persistence of misogyny and sexual aggression, personality and politics, gun laws, tobacco wars,...
(The entire section is 230 words.)
SOURCE: Review of Loud and Clear, by Anna Quindlen. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 3 (1 February 2004): 121.
[In the following review, the critic offers a mixed assessment of Loud and Clear.]
Light, appealing, and devoid of nutritional value, [Loud and Clear,] this selection of New York Times and Newsweek essays dating from the early 1990s to last year doesn't demand that readers think much. Since the author's opinions are never surprising, they eventually become background noise. This is a shame, because much of what Quindlen has to say is valuable, if shopworn. She fulminates against cigarettes, the death penalty, and the abuse of women—all worthy targets, though Quindlen's garden-variety critiques will change few minds. She reminds parents that child-rearing is an improvised dance in which you must trust yourself: “There is no formula, much as I once looked for one in the pages of Spock and Penelope Leach.” (It's puzzling that she fails to mention that this is precisely Spock's credo.) She has intelligent things to say on alcoholism, the mother myth, and, in perhaps the most valuable pages here, the work of Pulitzer-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa. She can also display a measure of elitism in an attack on racial profiling (posing the coy riddle of why a Princeton professor and a Harvard-educated attorney were pulled over by the police) and remarkable naivete in a paean to free...
(The entire section is 309 words.)
Abcarian, Robin. “Anna and the Boys of the N.Y. Times.” Los Angeles Times (30 October 1994): E1.
Abcarian discusses Quindlen's departure from the New York Times.
Kurtz, Howard. “Quindlen Quits N.Y. Times.” Washington Post (10 September 1994): C1.
Kurtz discusses Quindlen's departure from the New York Times.
Lannon, Linnea. “Predictable Blessings Will Entertain Anyway.” Detroit Free Press (29 September 2002): 4E.
Lannon evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Blessings.
Meadows, Susannah. “Leading a Double Life.” Newsweek (30 September 2002): 65.
Meadows praises Quindlen's narrative in Blessings.
Messud, Claire. “Universal Sadnesses.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4800 (31 March 1995): 20.
Messud argues that Quindlen “prefers emotional accuracy to literary elegance” and concludes that One True Thing is a strong novel.
Quindlen, Anna, and Rose A. Adkins. “Reporting the Details of Life.” Writer's Digest 73, no. 3 (March 1993): 35-7.
Quindlen discusses the thematic focus of her works, her writing career, and her personal life.
Stepp, Carl Sessions. “A Couple of Winning...
(The entire section is 247 words.)