In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Talking Volumes
DocumentTalking Volumes
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Themes and Threads in Anna Quindlen's "Blessings"
Larger view
"Blessings" (Courtesy of Random House)

Quindlen commands space in her writing. The pace is not so much slow as it is quiet. She takes a very simple setup, very few characters, and gives them space to dwell. Describing the rooms, taking time for back-story, letting there be silence. It's easy to slam on to the next plot point, but Quindlen is in no rush.

This is a thoughtful, provocative book that weaves in and out of itself slowly, like a Celtic knot, and flips perspectives. (Now the man is the caregiver, the female the potential "overseer" who might blow the whistle. The baby isn't automatically wanted, cute, or adored.) The book is (delightfully) void of easy comedy or Hollywood happy endings.

Quindlen's goal is to make us like unlikeable people. The crabby matriarch, the quasi-criminal caregiver, even the mottled baby, are all painted in realistic, not-always-flattering colors. Yet we feel for them. They're trying.

Larger view
Image Anna Quindlen

This lends the book an air of authenticity and journalistic integrity, as though the author was a first-hand witness, telling us what actually happened. Despite revealing her characters, warts and all, she achieves her goal of audience empathy, by carefully giving us the rich back-stories of the characters in teaspoons along the way.

The secret of Lydia's life is a scandal. Without giving too many of the details away, suffice it to say Blessings was the perfect retreat for a young girl in trouble. Her mother sent her there and then deeded the house to her, shackling Lydia's fate to the white elephant of a house and ending her life in New York permanently. Her time now is spent drifting around the crumbling empire, Lady Haversham style, recounting the days of old. These stories of love lost and hand-forced give us compassion for the otherwise bitter woman, and help us debunk the complex fortress around her psyche.

Skip Cuddy, the caretaker (and caregiver) is too busy changing diapers to linger in the past, but we do discover that, despite his difficult childhood, he has arrived in adulthood with a good heart. Though he has no experience or proclivity with babies—he starts the newborn on skim milk because "it seemed healthiest"—he makes a compassionate and worthy father. Even his robbery conviction turns out to have been an unfortunate impulse to take the rap for his best friend. So even as Quindlen paints an accurate portrait of her characters, she allows us to love them, a bit at a time.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects