When an author achieves the success of Mary Higgins Clark, readers might assume her own personal story came wrapped in a neat package like one of her mysteries. But as all of Mary Higgins Clark's devoted fans know, she was not published till long after she was widowed with five young children. In KITCHEN PRIVILEGES, her memoir, she tells her remarkable story. We are often skeptical (and rightly so) about success stories; they can be a little too good to be true. But when confronted with Mary Higgins Clark's resilience, drive and determination, you will want to jump up from your chair --- and cheer her success.
Clark's writing here has the same honest, breezy style that makes her books such fun to read. Mary grew up in an Irish neighborhood in the Bronx where family was everything. Her dad died when she was still in grammar school, forcing the family to change its lifestyle quickly. Her mom took in boarders, offering them "Kitchen Privileges," which is where the book got its title. Life in the Bronx for Mary meant hours at the kitchen table listening to her aunts talk about family stories. Many of these became the characters and grist for her later stories.
Later in life she moved to New Jersey with her husband and young family. Both the Bronx and New Jersey have given comedians and jokesters plenty of material. As Mary says, "It has always amused me that I've had to defend the two places where I've spent most of my life, the Bronx and New Jersey."
Mary loved to write and she loved to read, and she approached life with a jaunty style that kept her striving for success --- and achieving it.
She also loved to act and, for a while, subsidized her family's income with appearances in television commercials. The highlight was a commercial for Fab laundry detergent that ran on I Love Lucy and several daytime soap operas. It was quite an achievement for the girl who never got a speaking part in the grammar school school play! Wouldn't you love to see that commercial today?
Her husband Warren was a man with whom she shared both love and laughter. Though they had known each other their entire childhood, their courtship was nothing short of whirlwind. Their first date came soon after Pan Am hired her as a stewardess. Hungry for travel, she knew this was a way to see the world. On their first date he told her he knew they were going to be married, "Fly for a year. Get it out of your system. I'll take my mother to drive-in movies when you're away. We'll get married at Christmas."
Mary and Warren bottled up a lot of wonderful times into their short years together. Sadly he died of a heart condition in his early 40s, leaving her with five small children. The love and respect they had for one another got her through many a dark day in the years ahead. Working at a job writing radio shows, commuting, attending night school at Fordham and trying to keep her young family happy and worry-free required a lot of energy.
Recognizing that writing was something she always wanted to pursue, she began to rise at 5AM to write before her children awoke. Her first book, ASPIRE TO THE HEAVENS, which was re-published earlier this year as MOUNT VERNON LOVE STORY earned her $1,500, less the 10% commission. Her next book WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN brought her success --- the paperback was published and landed on The New York Times bestseller list. Her career as a novelist was on her way.
My favorite story in the book came the day her second book deal was made. I am not going to share it here lest I spoil it for readers. I read those pages and imagined how she felt when she finally hit the place she had hoped to get to. For anyone who has ever worked hard for success, I dare you to read that section dry-eyed.
I have had the pleasure to meet Mary Higgins Clark on more than one occasion. Each time she has been wonderful company and our conversation has been filled with her great humor. She is as good as listener as she is a storyteller, a skill honed at the kitchen table so many years ago. She is the kind of person to whom you wish endless good things and happiness for all that she has given to people.
Reviewed by Carol Fitzgerald on November 19, 2002