Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Best of "Quindlenesque"



Amazon Book Review: Miller's ValleyI consider having been asked to interview Anna Quindlen in front of a live audience at last week's Los Angeles Times Festival of Books a big honor. She's a "great get" – a popular writer sure to draw a large audience – and to judge from 300+ people lining up for the event, there were many people who'd love to have been in my role. Indeed, most of the attendees who stood up to ask questions toward the end of our presentation declared that they "loved" Quindlen, that she had changed their lives, inspired them, made a difference.

Anna Quindlen, of course, is the bestselling novelist, essayist and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter/columnist (for The New York Times, mostly) who famously (at least to those of us in the writing business) left her day job at newspapers in 1995 and has been writing (mostly) novels ever since. She's not alone in that – Laura Lippman was once a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, Michael Connelly is famously a former LA Times crime reporter – but somehow, Quindlen has become a kind of everywoman writer, a sympathetic ear, a listener, a wise chronicler. Her novels almost always concern girls and women coming of age – either in adolescence or, more modernly, as adults finally finding themselves. They're also sometimes slyly political in her work – and not in the sense of Who-Are-You-Voting-For political; it's more that the women in her novels face the kind of confusing contemporary circumstances that are often chronicled in newspapers. (Black and Blue is about, among other things, police wives and physical abuse; Still Life with Breadcrumbs about a photographer who hits the art-world version of a glass ceiling and must begin again.) Her most recent novel – and the one she was signing at the Book Festival – is Miller's Valley. It's about a family that feels somehow Quindlenesque; the author doesn't say so in this conversation, but she is known for having adored and admired her kind, strong mother, whom she nursed to her death from ovarian cancer at age 40. (Quindlen dropped out of Barnard to care for her mother and younger siblings; she later novelized the experience in One True Thing, which many think is her very best book.) In Miller's Valley, a daughter comes to terms with her family and the town that eventually gets turned into a giant reservoir. (Politics, again.) It has obviously struck a chord; in its first week, Miller's Valley cracked the top 100 on Amazon's bestseller list.

Quindlen has written 18 books – fiction, nonfiction and two for children. Here are my top three faves:

 

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One True Thing, which became a movie starring Meryl Streep and William Hurt, but is even stronger on the page, with its painfully detailed descriptions of what it's like to care for a dying mother.
 

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A Short Guide to a Happy Life, which is based on a graduation speech Quindlen wrote. (In 2000, after it was announced that Quindlen would give the commencement address at Villanova University, a group of students planned a demonstration because of her stance on reproductive rights. She withdrew as speaker.)
 

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Miller's Valley Maybe her best yet: a strong take on family and family secrets. You might even cry.
 

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