Anna Quindlen Criticism - Essay

Anna Quindlen and Marilyn Gardner (interview date 13 October 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.’”

For a writer, this kind of emotional connection with strangers is one of the perils of Quindlen's brand of self-revelatory reporting.

Yet for readers, her weekly invitation into the kitchen, nursery, and psyche of a thoroughly '80s family has proved to be enormously appealing.

About 60 newspapers now carry her column, syndicated by the New York Times. And 65 of those columns—dealing with everything from marriage and motherhood to sibling rivalry and junk food—have been collected in a book, Living Out Loud.

“We've sort of edged into this first-person, home-based journalism, which has really taken over now,” Quindlen explains.

“It's taken us a while to get to the point where people are comfortable with you saying, ‘Gee, my mother died, and it changed my life.’ Or, ‘I'm going to have a baby, and I don't want to have this test, because I couldn't do anything to end its life.’”

For Quindlen, the oldest of five children raised in what she describes as “the silly branch of a funny family,” the strength of her columns derives from the 15 years she spent as a reporter—first for the New York Post and then for the New York Times, where she covered city hall and served as deputy metropolitan editor.

Now, instead of reporting breaking news, her beat involves “reporting on my life.”

It's a life she shares with husband, Gerald Krovatin, a criminal defense lawyer, and the couple's two young sons, Quin, 5, and Christopher, 2.

It's also a life she describes as “charmed,” saying, “I have the kind of work that makes it easy to work part time and at home. And I have the kind of husband who, A, is...

(The entire section is 1327 words.)

Marilyn Fenichel (review date April 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Anna Quindlen and Sybil Steinberg (interview date 15 March 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 2140 words.)

Maude McDaniel (review date 21 April 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


(The entire section is 721 words.)

Carolyn See (review date 22 April 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 682 words.)

Karen Lehrman (review date 10 June 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3177 words.)

Judith Grossman (review date July 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Anna Quindlen and Alexander M. Santora (interview date 14 February 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4539 words.)

Terry Eastland (essay date June 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1551 words.)

Kenneth L. Woodward (review date 21 May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1429 words.)

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels (essay date 14 January 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 1294 words.)

Michael Dorris (review date 25 August 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 835 words.)

Carolyn See (review date 23 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 947 words.)

Rosanne Daryl Thomas (review date 25 September 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1133 words.)

Suzanne L. MacLachlan (review date 27 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

James Bowman (review date February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 3365 words.)

Elizabeth Leland (review date spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 961 words.)

Marilyn Gardner (review date 11 February 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 610 words.)

Anna Quindlen and Kim Campbell (interview date 11 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 826 words.)

Susie Linfield (review date 4 March 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 702 words.)

Frank L. Fennell (review date 6 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 918 words.)

Faith McLellan (review date 27 June 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 627 words.)

Margaret Russell (review date July 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1238 words.)

Kim Risedorph (review date 3 December 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 243 words.)

Publishers Weekly (review date 26 August 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 296 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 September 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

(The entire section is 353 words.)

Michael Harris (review date 22 September 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 714 words.)

Barbara Lloyd McMichael (review date 6 October 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 673 words.)

Donna Seaman (review date 1 February 2004)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 230 words.)

Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 February 2004)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 309 words.)