Living Out Loud. – book reviews

Marilyn Fenichel

Spokeswoman for Our Time

While reading Living Out Loud (Random House, $17.95), I came across a section I found particularly pithy. Eager to share my find, I read it to my significant other. He listened closely, but when I read the punch line, I could tell by looking at his face that he just didn’t get it.

The reason for his puzzlement is simple. Living Out Loud is really about being female, with its ambiguities and uncertainties as well as its joys and rewards. Adopted from Anna Quindlen’s “Life in the Thirties” column in The New York Times, the book covers it all: mothering and the deaths of mothers, relationships with men and relating to women, religion, politics at home and outside, and a range of miscellany.

The result is a book that speaks loudly and clearly to middle-class women of similar age (Quindlen is 36) and educational background (she went to Barnard). The liability is that men may feel a bit left out. But despite this, the book is a joy to read, a testament to the old adage that what is most profound is found in the simple pleasures of everyday life.

Consider, for example, an early essay in the book, “The Lightning Bugs Are Back.” Watching her children see lightning bugs for the first time and hearing them exclaim “Mommy, it’s magic” was the reason, she says, that she had children at all. The image was powerful to me, evoking memories of myself as a child as well as reminding me of the many young children I know now and have grown to love.

Other essays hit the mark just as effectively. In “Bookworm,” Quindlen explains in great detail her relationship with Elizabeth Bennett, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice. “The only thing I don’t like about Pride and Prejudice is the ending,” she says, “because then it’s over.” And in “Heredity,” she describes a lunch with friends whose mothers had all died young of diseases they were convinced they were doomed to inherit. (Quindlen’s own mother died of cancer when the author was 19.) “If I can make it past forty-seven,” said one whose mother had died at that age, “then I’ll be home free.”

But Quindlen does less well when she ventures into the political arena. Those essays (“Feminist,” “Getting Involved” and “Condoms,” for example) seem less profound, more trite and predictable. They don’t offer a fresh perspective on familiar problems–the hallmark of Quindlen at her best–or have a unique turn of phrase that stays with you. They stand out as flat in a book that sparkles.

Living Out Loud, however, succeeds at taking thoughts that seem too personal to say out loud and thrusting them into the public domain. The process of making life’s undercurrents explicit has the effect of making them seem less terrifying. Like the monsters Quindlen’s son discovers under his bed, life’s tribulations are always going to be there to deal with. But they are a little easier to face when you know that someone else feels the same way.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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