“The Mighty Queens of Freeville” by Amy Dickinson, c.2009, Hyperion, $22.95, 240 pages.
You’re in a situation and you don’t know who to turn to.
You can’t ask your sister; she’s one of the Major Forms of Communication. Your mother would have a heart attack if you asked her. Your best friend has her own problems. And your neighbor? No.
It sounds silly, but you might write a letter to the advice columnist in your newspaper. For one thing, you can get this whole thing off your chest and onto paper. And besides, that lady seems so level-headed, so reasonable. So human.
And she is, because she’s made her share of mistakes, too. In the new memoir “The Mighty Queens of Freeville” by Amy Dickinson, you’ll meet her.
For two hundred years, Dickinson says, her family has called Freeville, N.Y., home. Her womenfolk have been strong: they’ve milked cows, tilled the land, built barns, renovated houses, and raised children alone.
That’s because their men don’t tend to stick around long.
Dickinson’s father disappeared one day. He walked away from his wife and children and his mortgaged-to-the-hilt farm and founded another family elsewhere. Dickinson’s two aunts raised their children without men around, as did Dickinson’s two sisters. And when Dickinson’s husband decided he was done with their marriage, she, too, had a child to raise alone.
Jobless and looking for a fresh start, Dickinson moved with her daughter to Washington, D.C., to an apartment near where she lived during college. But, she says, she cried on the phone almost nightly to her mother and sisters. She missed Freeville, where her family all lived within a few blocks of one another and where everybody ate together at Toad’s restaurant at least once a week.
But volunteering as a Sunday School teacher doesn’t pay the bills. Dickinson, who was a stay-at-home mom during her marriage, started freelancing. She wrote a few articles here and there until an editor in Chicago invited her to try out for a slot as an advice columnist to replace the recently-deceased Ann Landers.
And she got the job.
Dickinson loved Chicago, but the Windy City isn’t Freeville. Fortunately, she kept her fixer-upper back home, on a corner lot next to her aunt’s house. Luckily, she visits often. Promisingly, it’s where she found a happy ending to this story.
In her daily advice column, Dickinson seems so serious and straight-laced. Her book is an almost complete opposite.
“The Mighty Queens of Freeville” is a good-humored love story to a matriarchal family filled with support. It’s a book that abundantly displays the kind of hands-linked “safety net” that women construct for one another in bad times. Dickinson isn’t afraid to admit that she messes up now and again (paraphrasing one of her advice-column mottoes), and she’s willing to make gentle fun of herself, which makes for a mighty satisfying tale.
If you’re looking for a quick-to-read, feel-good book, or if your book club is searching for its next selection, take my advice: “The Mighty Queens of Freeville” is a first-rate story and an excellent choice.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.