Being chosen to replace Ann Landers as the Chicago Tribune's syndicated advice columnist is an example, Amy Dickinson writes, of her talent for "failing up." In her new book, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville" (Hyperion, 240 pages, $22.99), she downplays the magazine columns, editorials and radio appearances that helped her get where she is, at one point describing herself as a "job doula," explaining: "Right now, a midlevel female journalist is having sex; in eight and a half months I'll have her job."
With that self-deprecating but clear-eyed tone throughout, Dickinson assesses her choices in life: to forgive a well-meaning but unfaithful ex-husband, to stay connected to a ne'er-do-well father, to buy a sound but shabby home base in the New York town of 458 where she grew up, and to expose her daughter to the love and wisdom of the women in her family, the "mighty queens of Freeville."
And these are some spunky, funny, insightful women. Dickinson's mother, for example, plans to someday share her country cooking recipes in a book titled "After the Cat Has Licked It." From experience, most of this tight-knit group have concluded that men just complicate life, but they'll offer their good wishes to anyone who wants to give dating, or even marriage, a go. The aunts, sisters and cousins meet at a diner every Wednesday morning (separate checks, no matter how small), which is where the perspective of experience gets passed on.
Like them, Dickinson is a good-natured companion. She unfailingly finds the good and/or humorous in every situation, whether it's online dating ("For me, dating is a lot like going to a professional baseball game -- it's an activity that always seems better in the abstract"), fixing up her house ("No matter how large or small the job was, the price was always $1,000"), or adjusting to a new cat ("He had a high tolerance for humiliation and a fondness for headgear, which is a prerequisite for being a member of our family"). Still, Dickinson sometimes comes across as too wise -- or self-conscious? -- to really exult in her achievements or wallow in her disappointments. With a new man in her life now, maybe she's saving the passion for the next installment.
Kathe Connair is a features copy editor at the Star Tribune.