The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson

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The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A very readable look at the life of agony aunt Amy Dickinson and the village where she grew up. Heartily recommended as a feel-good and informative read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
ISBN: 978-0340962602

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If you're a reader of The Chicago Tribune then Amy Dickinson will be a familiar name; for those of us on the other side of the pond (and not the one at Chicago's back door) it's a name that's vaguely familiar but not one which you can readily place. Amy was the replacement for Ann Landers, probably the most influential American woman of the late twentieth century and the most widely read agony aunt of her age with an estimated ninety million readers. So, what was it about Amy Dickinson which propelled her into a job which must have been a dream and a nightmare combined? In The Mighty Queens of Freeville we meet Amy, her daughter Emily and the women of Amy's family who were their support.

Freeville is another name which doesn't spring to the mind unbidden. It's a village in the town of Dryden, east of Ithaca in New York State. Amy's family has lived in the village for over two hundred years, cultivating the land, being dairy farmers and building houses. Even now they all live within a ten-house radius of each other. It's the women who dominate the families – when she was a child Amy's father left and it was her indomitable mother who somehow made ends meet and dragged herself into a real career.

Amy had never intended that she would make her life in Freeville, but there's an uncanny repetition of history, elegantly foreshadowed by Amy:

In my family the women tend to do the heavy lifting while the men – well the men are nice and fine and they love us for a time. Then at some point it seems that they tire of their indeterminate roll in our lives, so they wage a campaign of passive resistance, and then they leave.

When she married her husband's career took them to London but after the marriage broke up she moved to Washington DC along with her daughter Emily and cautiously began to rebuild their lives. It's a touching picture of a woman doing her best by her child and maintaining a reasonable relationship with her ex-husband for the sake of the child. It's a roll-call too of the jobs which fit around childcare, of opportunities grasped rather than a career built. And at the back of all this is Freeville where she and Emily returned weekend after weekend, holiday after holiday, buying a small house in the midst of her family mainly because it was very cheap.

It's an extraordinary story of ordinariness – a small-town America which will be familiar to millions – but it's told with wit and understanding. The writing is easy; pages turn with no effort and the years fly past. Looking back after I finally put the book down (yes – there was a contented sigh) I realised that there was a complete absence of negativity. There's no malice when things go wrong, no blame apportioned. Problems have their funny side and lessons to be learned – joys, such as the regular family meetings in a café, are there to be treasured.

When I read The Mighty Queens of Freeville I had a streaming cold. I felt miserable and badly done-by, but the book was the equivalent of hot lemon and honey and much appreciated. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Another couple of recent autobiographies which we've loved are Another Alice by Alice Peterson and Cupboard Love by Laura Lockington. For some feel-good American fiction, we can recommend Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber – which shared the burden of that same cold. You might also enjoy My Life In Agony by Irma Kurtz.

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Buy The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson at


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