Anna Quindlen --- or perhaps someone who works for her publisher
--- seems to have a curious affinity for the word "loud." Her last
two books of collected columns were respectively titled LIVING OUT
LOUD and THINKING OUT LOUD. Now comes another serving from the same
pot, LOUD AND CLEAR.
A curious choice of word --- for Quindlen does not come across as a
loud literary voice. Opinionated, certainly. A forceful writer,
absolutely. But "loud" is not the term that comes to mind as you
read these reflections on life and living. She writes rather as
though Erma Bombeck, Dear Abby, Susan Sontag and Hilary Clinton had
somehow been conflated together into a single person. Readable.
Entertaining. Thought-provoking. Self-assured. But not
The 65 short pieces in LOUD AND CLEAR are drawn from her popular
columns in the New York Times and Newsweek. Two or
three of them are obviously speeches that she delivered on
unspecified occasions. They deal, from her own very personal
standpoint, with a nicely varied array of subjects, many of them
geared especially to women readers: childrearing, feminism, health
care, welfare reform, women in the workplace. There are also
comments on such issues as gay rights, gun control, the death
penalty, school prayer, the sexual problems in today's Roman
Catholic church, 9/11 and politics in general. Her stance is pretty
much on the liberal side, but she generally avoids the hectoring,
sermonizing tone that can alienate even a sympathetic reader.
Certain moments in her personal life seem to bulk large in
Quindlen's thoughts --- the early death of her mother, her
relationships with her siblings and with her own children, her
decision to leave a dream job at the Times to become a
freelance novelist. These subjects pop up in different contexts
throughout LOUD AND CLEAR. The pieces are not arranged in any
chronological order but only loosely by subject matter. The reader
must note the date on each one to orient himself. A few of the
pieces bear no date, but are still certainly worth reading.
Quindlen is a bright and quotable writer. Even those who may
disagree with her views, if they appreciate good writing, will
enjoy reading this book. She pleads, for example, for American kids
in the midst of their frantic and over-scheduled lives, to be given
"the gift of enforced boredom" --- i.e., time to simply sit back,
do nothing much and savor the life around them. "From one
generation to another," she observes pertly, "the complaint is
always the same: They are not like us." You can call this book a
bag of literary popcorn, if you wish --- available in bite-size
pieces and hard to resist --- but, unlike popcorn, these small
essays do make you think about life --- hers and your own.
One of the best pieces in this book is a reflection inspired by a
production of Waiting for Godot, in which Quindlen's son was
appearing. The lesson drawn from Beckett is that young people
should look within themselves, to their own dreams and
capabilities, for direction in life, and not wait for the arrival
of some external event, person or seal of approval. It is a
worthwhile lesson, deftly expressed.
The book is certainly not free from clichés, and Quindlen's
reflections on 9/11, written immediately after the event, seem
inadequate at a distance of two-plus years --- but so of course do
the reflections from that time of many other writers.
Anna Quindlen's large fan club will not be disappointed in this
latest potpourri of her pieces. Most of them retain their whimsy
and freshness nicely between hard covers. One only hopes that her
next collection will not be titled FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.
Reviewed by Robert Finn on January 7, 2011