As she has in the past, Anna Quindlen continues to peer into our lives and souls, ruminating upon and affirming life's passages. In this memoir, she sagely discusses how it feels to be an aging, contemporary woman. She reminisces on her past experiences, gazes into her future, and relays her present life in a way that feels both universal and comforting.
"Each delightful, wise and witty essay can stand alone, and gives the reader much to ponder... LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE is an empowering, uplifting read for women at any stage of their life's journey, but those nearing or past middle age will especially embrace it."
Quindlen once wrote a New York Times column titled "Life in the 30s," which discussed her challenges as a mother, working woman, and wife. Female readers loved the way she related to their teeter-totter lives, which made the column extremely popular. "Life in the 30s" ended with the announcement that Quindlen just had her third child; it was time for her to move on and grapple with her busy life. Time moved on, too. Her children grew into adults, and now she has the time, once again, to discuss her contemplations.
In LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE, Quindlen begins with a question from her 22-year-old daughter. What, the young woman wonders, would her mother say to her own self as a 22-year-old if she could travel back in time? Quindlen's answer addresses what she has found to be the important, lasting things during her lifetime --- ordinary wonders, such as family dinners and friends. She also notes that the 22-year-old Anna Quindlen would not even be able to understand the answer; she must learn it all for herself by living her life.
Each aspect of life discussed by Quindlen resonates with readers, who may well find themselves nodding in agreement, as with her discussion about "stuff." She is not the only woman to find herself with an accumulation of things such as "dishes, bowls, pottery, glass, candlesticks, serving trays, paperweights. Beds, chests, trunks, tables. Windsor chairs, club chairs, ladder-back chairs, folding chairs, wicker chairs…" As a young single woman, she didn't have much. Her amassing of objects began in earnest when she married, grew with her enlarging family, and as she moved from small apartment to larger brownstone. But how much does she really care about her possessions?
As a partner in an enduring marriage, Quindlen contemplates the manner in which her expectations of her husband and their union have changed over time. She skewers stereotypes of marriages from previous generations, as well as those "more equal" later ones. Divorce, differences, alone time, and a tip for staying married direct from Hollywood are all examined in these meditations.
Quindlen moves nimbly on to the subject of the manner in which a woman gets through not only her challenging days, but the sometimes rocky months and years, with the help of her girlfriends. She admits to being surprised by her own preconceived notions about the previous generation of women --- and about what the next generation values. She considers the turning points of her own life, the averted near-misses and what-ifs that led her to her husband, children, work and life. While she gives a nod to lost opportunities, she emphasizes gratitude for averted pitfalls. When Quindlen discusses the physical changes of an aging body, it is humorous, thought-provoking, and ultimately comforting (she describes her body as "a personality-delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place…"). Her reflections continue as she muses on parenting, solitude, religious faith, death, and society's demands on women.
Each delightful, wise and witty essay can stand alone, and gives the reader much to ponder. The book is enjoyable gulped down in a few sittings, but the format also calls for a leisurely one-essay-each-day reading with plenty of time to process each chapter filtered through the light of a reader's own life. LOTS OF CANDLES, PLENTY OF CAKE is an empowering, uplifting read for women at any stage of their life's journey, but those nearing or past middle age will especially embrace it.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on May 4, 2012