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The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Story of Surprising Second Chances by Amy Dickinson. Hyperion, 2010.
Okay, for some reason, all roads point to Chicago in this indirect route to me reading Amy Dickinson’s memoir of divorce, motherhood and career. I don’t read Chicago newspapers, where Amy currently works and writes “Ask Amy,” but I do listen to NPR, especially on the weekends when the Indianapolis affiliate, WFYI, airs Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me on Saturday and then AGAIN on Sunday. This show is recorded in Chicago and Amy is a frequent panelist on the show. But, I didn’t want to buy or read her book because I hear her pleasant voice a couple of times each month or because she’s a popular advice columnist, but because I saw her speak in Chicago at the Printers Row Lit Fest…again with Chicago.
So, for those of you who have never been to the well-known book fair, try to make it some year. The only risk is the weather. Back to Amy…I went to a “talk/reading” with Amy and Charlie Pierce in 2010 and thought I should buy at least one of their books, so I bought hers. I am drawn to memoirs since most folks reserve their best stories for readers in neat chapters. Amy’s work follows this format with the flow of her life starting at the time of her divorce through today. Within this framework, she reflects on her childhood, which paves the road to explain her duel residency she is able to maintain, even when her career and finances didn’t appear to be so robust. Simply stated, over the years, Amy and her daughter had two homes – one in Freeville, NY where Amy grew up and then in cities where Amy had writing work, namely Washington DC and Chicago.
To be honest, I was worried this was like a northeast Steel Magnolias from the title…like a bunch of hen pecking stories from her youth….thank goodness, Mighty Queens is not. I think Amy wants you to know she’s the person she is today because of her humble upbringing, but she also can’t hide the fact that she’s a talented journalist. Her tales of motherhood, some dating and reflection on her mom and dad’s divorce certainly have prepped her for her advice giving, but the fact she seems relentlessly grounded and funny are her best qualifications.
The book begins with a description of her divorce and the fact they had a small daughter at the time. From there, Amy describes her journey of moving back to the states, reestablishing herself in her hometown where she is then able to sprinkle in a little back story of her childhood. At this point the pursuit of career is described, but none of the chapters go into too much detail. Perhaps this is where I find fault with the book. I know Amy is funny and has had a very interesting past personal and professional life, but she is really good at downplaying all of it. The best story was when she visited her estranged father and they go on a trip to tow a tractor. The book’s cutest moment is the primitive drawing Amy gives us to describe their options for getting the tractor out of the mud.
Even if you don’t read Amy’s column or listen to her on Wait Wait, I think this book makes a pleasant read for those on holiday or for women seeking a little inspiration when raising a child on their own. Frankly, Amy seems rather lucky professionally, so I drew inspiration to keep on….you know, push through, make it happen, sort it out…keep on.