Anna Quindlen Critical Essays

Introduction

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.