by Saralee Rosenberg
In her recently released memoir, LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE (Random House), Anna Quindlen confesses that devoted husband, Gerry, never forgets the names of those who dare to pan her books. He need not worry. Her latest collection of essays is her most honest and salient, diving deep into an ocean of familiar territory with her signature style – one half reporter’s eyes, one-half mother’s heart.
But it is her candid exploration of the 3 Ps- parenting, partners and possessions, where she brings the real treasures to the surface. Once again, readers of a certain age will take comfort in her wisdom and in her clarion call. We are neither crazy nor alone. Just privileged to be on this journey together.
And by certain age, I mean women who began their relationship with Anna back in the seventies when she was the voice of hope and reason in her Pulitzer Prize winning columns for The New York Times. Those heady days of juggling Mommy-jobs and marriages, careers and identity crises, were well chronicled in “Life in the 30’s.”
Then because we collectively blinked, decades passed and we came to the stark realization that we had arrived at middle-age. Yet we were no less in need of a reassuring voice to explain and explore our newest challenges. Holding on (or not) to friendships. Grappling with grown children who dare have minds of their own. Having faith in spite of unmet expectations.
But perhaps the real impetus for writing this memoir was to put all of the agitation into perspective. Her mother never reached the middle-age milestone due to ovarian cancer. It likely gave Anna the desire to explore the blessings and burdens of being a married woman in her fifties with three grown children.
And I’m so glad that she did.
What I love about Anna’s writing (and always have) is that she has the skill of an archeologist- she knows exactly where to dig, and the self deprecating humor to put her discoveries in perspective.
For example, the dreaded topic of body image. While many of us lament the harsh realities that are illuminated by harsh lighting, Anna rules out pity. “I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place, now and in the years to come. It’s like a car, and while I like a red convertible or even a Bentley as well as the next person, what I really need are four tires and engine.”
Take that, plastic surgeons who insist we shouldn’t go another day without going under the knife!
But my favorite essay was simply called, “Stuff.” And, of course, the one-word title was a direct assault on not only overwriting, but overdoing. Everything. It was an honest poke at how much we’ve accumulated in our heads, in our houses and mostly in our closets. “One day I peered inside and realized it looked like it belonged to someone with multiple personality disorder. The bohemian look, the sharp suits, the frilly dresses… I prefer not to dwell on the purses and the white T-shirts. You know, fashion magazines always you can never have too many white T-shirts. Yes you can.”
And the lesson? Before you buy more, no matter how great the sale price, say to yourself, “But I already have one.” The mantra may not be good for the economy but it will be good for self preservation.
As a mother who has also raised three children, I adored (and needed) LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE. Essay upon essay was filled with reflections, resolutions and sometimes regrets- all in her heartfelt and humorous cadence. The one that readers came to know and love back when Coach purses were only available in brown and black leather. She’s still here. Still reminding us of what is important and what doesn’t matter now, and probably never did.
Relax, Gerry. Anna sparkles as ever. Long may she shine.
Saralee Rosenberg is the author of eight non-fiction books and novels including her latest, DEAR NEIGHBOR, DROP DEAD (Avon/HarperCollins). She is currently completing her first novel for middle-grade readers, HOTLINE TO HEAVEN. She is also an instructor at Hofstra University where she teaches novel writing for the Department of Continuing Education.