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Blessings

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Overview

Blessings, the bestselling novel by the author of Black and Blue, One True Thing, Object Lessons, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life, begins when, late at night, a teenage couple drives up to the estate owned by Lydia Blessing and leaves a box.

In this instant, the world of the estate called Blessings is changed forever. The story of Skip Cuddy, the Blessings caretaker, who finds a baby asleep in that box and decides he wants to keep her, and of matriarch Lydia Blessing, who, for...

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Overview

Blessings, the bestselling novel by the author of Black and Blue, One True Thing, Object Lessons, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life, begins when, late at night, a teenage couple drives up to the estate owned by Lydia Blessing and leaves a box.

In this instant, the world of the estate called Blessings is changed forever. The story of Skip Cuddy, the Blessings caretaker, who finds a baby asleep in that box and decides he wants to keep her, and of matriarch Lydia Blessing, who, for her own reasons, decides to help him, Blessings explores how the secrets of the past affect decisions and lives in the present; what makes a person, a life, legitimate or illegitimate, and who decides; the unique resources people find in themselves and in a community. This is a powerful novel of love, redemption, and personal change by the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer about whom The Washington Post Book World said, “Quindlen knows that all the things we ever will be can be found in some forgotten fragment of family.”

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A polished gem of a novel...lovingly crafted, beautifully written.”
—The Miami Herald

“A well-told story of love and redemption.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“[A] richly imagined novel of the transforming power of love.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Readers...will be rewarded by a story they cannot put down.”
—BookPage

Beth Kephart
In her elegant, compassionate, but not always plausible new novel, Quindlen takes readers to an estate in a town called Mount Mason. The estate is named Blessings, and its eighty-year-old owner, Lydia, has been living the staid and brittle life of remorse and "self-imposed exile" for as long as she can remember. Things change when a baby mysteriously shows up in a box on the steps of the garage and the handyman, Skip Cuddy, decides to raise the child as his own. His attempt to keep the baby a secret fails miserably, and soon Lydia and Skip, the unlikeliest of friends, develop a binding affection for the child, whom Skip names Faith. The writing is lovely, and some of the insights into human nature are breathtaking. But when the real world does finally intrude and the tranquillity of Blessings is broken, Quindlen sends her characters down improbable paths; suddenly they are acting, reacting and speaking in ways that seem oddly out of sync with the personalities she has developed. Still, there are great pleasures to be had in reading this novel, particularly its lambent prose.
Publishers Weekly
Venturing into fictional territory far from the blue-collar neighborhoods of Black and Blue and other works, Quindlen's immensely appealing new novel is a study in social contrasts and of characters whose differences are redeemed by the transformative power of love. The eponymous Blessings is a stately house now gone to seed, inhabited by Mrs. Blessing, an 80-year-old wealthy semirecluse with an acerbic tongue and a reputation for hanging on to every nickel. Widowed during WWII, Lydia Blessing was banished to her socially prominent family's country estate for reasons that are revealed only gradually. Austere, unbending and joyless, Lydia has no idea, when she hires young Skip Cuddy as her handyman, how her life and his are about to change. Skip had promise once, but bad companions and an absence of parental guidance have led to a stint in the county jail. When Skip stumbles upon a newborn baby girl who's been abandoned at Blessings, he suddenly has a purpose in life. With tender devotion, he cares secretly for the baby for four months, in the process forming a bond with Mrs. Blessing, who discovers and admires his clandestine parenting skills. A double betrayal destroys their idyll. As usual, Quindlen's fine-tuned ear for the class distinctions of speech results in convincing dialogue. Evoking a bygone patrician world, she endows Blessings with an almost magical aura. While it skirts sentimentality by a hairbreadth, the narrative is old-fashioned in a positive way, telling a dramatic story through characters who develop and change, and testifying to the triumph of human decency when love is permitted to grow and flourish. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Blessings is the name of an estate owned by an aging, ornery matriarch, Lydia Blessing. One day someone drops off an infant at this estate assuming she will get excellent care. The handyman, who just happens to be an ex-con, finds her and begins to raise her as his own. Mrs. Blessing finds out and the three become a unique family. They name her Faith and fall in love with the baby. It's a fragmented family with an absurd blending of an old woman with a great amount of resources and a young man who owns nothing. Quindlen, an award-winning columnist and author, writes about how love of a child brings out the best in people, with a healthy dose of reality thrown into the pile. It is a powerful commentary on family interactions and the ability of a person to change. The past never stays in the past but surfaces. The characters have to sort out what actually happened and reconcile themselves to the truth so they are able to move forward and become a family unit in the most unconventional manner. This is for older high school students and fans of Quindlen. KLIATT Codes: SA-Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, 237p., Ages 15 to adult.
— Sherri F. Ginsberg
Library Journal
Quindlen's short, sentimentally sweet new novel (following Black and Blue) is ultimately unsatisfying. The wealthy and reclusive 80-year-old Lydia Blessing lives in the eponymous "Blessings," the country estate to which she was banished by her family after the death of her husband in World War II. Two events conspire to change the remaining years of Lydia's life: she hires twentysomething Skip Cuddy as a handyman, and a baby is abandoned on her doorstep. Skip, whose friendship with some local lowlifes led to a stint in jail, tries to hide the existence of the baby from his prickly and critical employer, to no avail. Both Skip and Lydia fall in love with the baby, whom they name Faith, and in spite of their misgivings come together as a makeshift family. But after four months, their secret is revealed, and Faith is taken away. Quindlen's talent for realistic dialog can't overcome the melodramatic plot and one-dimensional characters. Of course, her fans will want to read this, but don't go overboard on the number you purchase. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/02.]-Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Fourth adult novel from Newsweek columnist Quindlen (Black and Blue, 1998, etc.), a story of lost souls redeemed by love. A friend of Lydia Blessing's once told her that there was a secret at the heart of every family and-predictably-it's revealed that the Blessing family had dark secrets to spare. Eighty years old when the story begins, Lydia lives more in the past than present, haunted by memories. Her handsome, ne'er-do-well, secretly homosexual brother Sunny was a shotgun suicide; and Lydia's long-ago marriage to Sunny's best friend Ben Carton was a sham (madly in love with Sunny, Ben obligingly married his sister, though she was pregnant by another man, then conveniently died in WWII). Her charming father had evidently married her cold and disapproving mother mostly for money, and it turns out that Ethel Blessing, to all appearances a staunch Episcopalian, was actually Jewish. The family shuttled between Blessings, the enormous house on the vast New England estate that her father called his gentleman's farm, and a Manhattan townhouse. Lydia and her brother attended the right schools, wore the right clothes, socialized with the right people, etc. Hoping to conceal the true paternity of her redheaded granddaughter (no, Ben really couldn't manage sex with a woman), Ethel packed Lydia off to the Blessings, where she raised her daughter Meredith more or less alone and otherwise observed the rules and routines of upper-class WASPs. And so the decades rolled by and now Lydia makes do with the company of her cranky Korean housekeeper and the estate caretaker, Skip Cuddy, a drifter with a heart of gold who lives in the shabby apartment over her five-car garage. Nothing much changes-until anewborn baby is left on the doorstep. The caretaker moves her to his dresser drawer, figures out how to feed her, and names her Faith. And Lydia is shaken out of her genteel torpor at last. As soap-opera-parable with old-fashioned contrivances: comfortable, not Quindlen's best.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812969818
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/19/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 196,554
  • Product dimensions: 7.98 (w) x 5.12 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen is the author of three previous novels (Object Lessons, One True Thing, Black and Blue), and four nonfiction books (A Short Guide to a Happy Life, Living Out Loud, Thinking Out Loud, How Reading Changed My Life). She has also written two children’s books (The Tree That Came to Stay, Happily Ever After). Her New York Times column “Public & Private” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Her column now appears every other week in Newsweek.

Biography

Anna Quindlen could have settled onto a nice, lofty career plateau in the early 1990s, when she had won a Pulitzer Prize for her New York Times column; but she took an unconventional turn, and achieved a richer result.

Quindlen, the third woman to hold a place among the Times' Op-Ed columnists, had already published two successful collections of her work when she decided to leave the paper in 1995. But it was the two novels she had produced that led her to seek a future beyond her column.

Quindlen had a warm, if not entirely uncritical, reception as a novelist. Her first book, Object Lessons, focused on an Irish American family in suburban New York in the 1960s. It was a bestseller and a Times Notable Book of 1991, but was also criticized for not being as engaging as it could have been. One True Thing, Quindlen's exploration of an ambitious daughter's journey home to take care of her terminally ill mother, was stronger still—a heartbreaker that was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep. But Quindlen's fiction clearly benefited from her decision to leave the Times. Three years after that controversial departure, she earned her best reviews yet with Black and Blue, a chronicle of escape from domestic abuse.

Quindlen's novels are thoughtful explorations centering on women who may not start out strong, but who ultimately find some core within themselves as a result of what happens in the story. Her nonfiction meditations—particularly A Short Guide to a Happy Life and her collection of "Life in the 30s" columns, Living Out Loud—often encourage this same transition, urging others to look within themselves and not get caught up in what society would plan for them. It's an approach Quindlen herself has obviously had success with.

Good To Know

To those who expressed surprise at Quindlen's apparent switch from columnist to novelist, the author points out that her first love was always fiction. She told fans in a Barnes & Noble.com chat, "I really only went into the newspaper business to support my fiction habit, but then discovered, first of all, that I loved reporting for its own sake and, second, that journalism would be invaluable experience for writing novels."

Quindlen joined Newsweek as a columnist in 1999. She began her career at the New York Post in 1974, jumping to the New York Times in 1977.

Quindlen's prowess as a columnist and prescriber of advice has made her a popular pick for commencement addresses, a sideline that ultimately inspired her 2000 title A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Quindlen's message tends to be a combination of stopping to smell the flowers and being true to yourself. Quindlen told students at Mount Holyoke in 1999, "Begin to say no to the Greek chorus that thinks it knows the parameters of a happy life when all it knows is the homogenization of human experience. Listen to that small voice from inside you, that tells you to go another way. George Eliot wrote, 'It is never too late to be what you might have been.' It is never too early, either. And it will make all the difference in the world."

Studying fiction at Barnard with the literary critic Elizabeth Hardwick, Quindlen's senior thesis was a collection of stories, one of which she sold to Seventeen magazine.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 8, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
    1. Education:
      B.A., Barnard College, 1974
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One
In the early hours of June 24 a car pulled into a long macadam drive on Rolling Hills Road in the town of Mount Mason. The driver cut the engine, so that as the car rolled down the drive and into the oval turnaround between the back of the big white clapboard house and the garage, it made only a soft swishing sound, like the whisper of summer rain those first few moments after the dirty gray storm clouds open.

There were deer in the fields that surrounded the house, cropping the rye grass with their spotted fawns at their flanks. But the fields stretched so far from the drive on either side, and the deer kept so close to the tree line, that the does did not even raise their divot heads from the ground as the car slid past, although one or two stopped chewing, and the smallest of the babies edged toward their mothers, stepping delicately sideways, en pointe on their small hooves.

“I don’t feel that good,” said the young woman in the passenger seat, her hair veiling her face.

The moonlight slipping at an oblique angle through the windows and the windshield of the car picked out what there was of her to be seen: a suggestion of the whites of her eyes between the curtains of her hair, the beads of sweat on her arched upper lip, the silver chain around her neck, the chipped maroon polish on her nails—a jigsaw puzzle of a girl, half the pieces not visible. She was turned away from the driver, turned toward the door as though she were a prisoner in the car and, at any moment, might pull the door handle and tumble out. The fingers of one hand played with her full bottom lip as she stared at the black shadows of the trees on the rough silver of the lawns, silhouettes cut from construction paper. At the edge of the drive, halfway down it, was a small sign, black on white. blessings, it said.

Blessings was one of those few places that visitors always found, on their return, even more pleasing than the pleasant memories they had of it. The house sat, big and white, low and sprawling, in a valley of overgrown fields, its terrace gardens spilling white hydrangeas, blue bee balm, and bushy patches of catnip and lavender onto a flagstone patio that ran its length. The land surrounding it was flat and rich for a long ways, to the end of the drive, and then the stony mountains rose around as though to protect it, a great God-sized berm spiky with pine trees.

The house had a squat and stolid quality, as though it had lain down to rest in the valley and grown middle-aged. Ill-advised additions had been made, according to the fashion of the times: a den paneled in rustic pine, a long screened porch, some dormers scattered above the horizontal roof line like eyes peering down the drive. The weeping willows at one end of the pond dipped low, but the cedars at the other were too tall and rangy for grace, and there had been sporadic talk of cutting them down almost from the day they were planted. The gardens were of the most conventional sort, hollyhocks in the back, day lilies in the center, alyssum along the borders. Wild rhododendrons grew in the shade wherever a stream sprang from the ground to spill down the hillside and into the big pond, a lake almost, that lay along one side of the house. None of it amounted to much on its own.

But taken altogether it was something almost perfect, the sort of place that, from the road, which was how these two had first seen it, promised plenty without pretense, ease without arrogance. From the road Blessings looked like a place where people would sit on the terrace at dusk, sip a drink and exult in the night breeze over the mountain, pull a light cardigan around their shoulders, and go to bed content. At one time or another, in fact all of these things had been true, but not for some time.

In the fashion of the young, the two in the car, peering down the drive some months before, had convinced themselves that appearance was reality. For the girl, it was the awnings that had finally convinced her, faded green and gold stripes over each window, like proud flags of this little nation-state, where it had been arranged that the sun would never fade the upholstery. That, and a small boat to one side of the pond, in which it was not only possible but indubitable that children could sit safely, row handily, put out a fishing line. In the light from a thumbnail moon the boat, upended on the grass, shone as though a smaller moon had dropped down to earth. The girl saw the sign by the side of the drive in the car’s headlights as a benediction, not as a sign of ownership, the proud name of an old family at the end of its bloodline.

The pond made the car’s driver nervous. It was shiny bright as a mirror, every star, every constellation, even the path of planes, reflecting back within its dark water and seemingly magnified by the pitch black of the night and the stillness of its surface. Frogs called from its banks, and as the car rolled silently into the circular driveway turnaround a fish jumped and left circles on the surface of the water. At the same moment the car tripped the automatic light at the corner of the house’s long porch, and it lit up the drive and the water and the bats that flew crazy eights in search of mosquitoes. The light caught the car itself squarely, so that the two people in the front seat, a boy and girl, each poised between the raw uncertain beauty of adolescence and the duller settled contours of adulthood, were illuminated momentarily as though by the flash from a camera. Their light hair shone, enough alike that at first glance they could have passed for siblings.

“Oh, shit,” said the driver, stepping down hard on the brake, so that the car bucked.

“Don’t do that,” cried the girl. Her hand touched a cardboard box on the backseat, then her own forehead, then dropped to her lap. “I’d kill for a cigarette,” she murmured.

“Right,” whispered the boy harshly. “So you could have an asthma attack right here and wake everybody up.”

“That’s not why I’m not smoking,” the girl muttered.

“Let’s just get this over with,” he said.

The car glided to the corner of the big garage, with its five bays. There was a narrow door on one side of the oblong building, and three flagstone steps leading to it. The boy had oiled the doors of the car that morning, with a foresight and industry and stealth the girl had not expected of him. They had both surprised each other and themselves in the last two days, he with his hardness and his determination, she with her weakness and her grief. Anyone familiar with the love affairs between men and women could have told them that theirs would soon be over.

As he slid out and opened the back door there was almost no sound, only the sort of clicks and snaps that could have been a moth hitting a screen or a raccoon stepping on a stick in the woods that stretched behind the garage and into the black of the mountains and the night. The girl was huddled against the door on her side now, all folded in upon herself like an old woman, or like a child who’d fallen asleep on a long journey; she heard the sounds of him as though they were musical notes, each distinct and clear, and her shoulders moved slightly beneath her shirt, and her hands were jammed between her knees. She felt as though they were somehow alone in the world, almost as though the house and its surroundings were a kind of island, floating in a deep sea of ordinary life through which the two of them would have to swim back to shore by driving back up the drive.

She thought this feeling was because of the boy, and the box, and the night, and the ache in her slack belly and her bruised groin, and the pain in her chest that might have been the beginning of an asthma attack. But she was only the latest in a long line of people who had felt that Blessings was somehow a place apart. In the moonlight the high points of it, the faint luster of the slate roof of the house, the shed on the knoll where the gardener had always kept his tools, the small white boathouse at one end of the pond: all of them were set in high sepia relief like the photograph hung carelessly now on the short wall of the library, the one of Edwin Blessing, who bought the place when it was just another old farm and lavished money on it in the years when he had money to spend. The people from Mount Mason who worked there, washing up at the parties in the old days, fixing frozen pipes for the old lady in the years after the parties ended: they all said it was like going somewhere out of this world, the quiet, the clean smells, the rooms and rooms full of polished furniture and toile draperies, which they only glimpsed through half-open doorways. Above all the pond, the gardens, the land. The real world tried to intrude from time to time upon Blessings, but usually the real world failed.


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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Anna Quindlen

Q: Was there a particular place that sparked the idea for you to write Blessings? Where or how do you find inspiration for your novels, and how do you move from that kernel of an idea to a fully-developed story?

A: The physical place called Blessings was very loosely based, when I began, on a place my husband and I have out in the country. But, as so often happens in novels, the fictional location very quickly outstripped the literal place and took on a life of its own. At a certain point, you say to yourself, well, I'm putting in a rose garden here or a pond there. There's a kind of liberating moment in fiction writing when you realize you were sitting on a rock of real life and suddenly the creative imagination spreads its wings and lifts off. Most of those moments in this book came when I pushed away from a place I knew and took off for a place I invented and then came to know.

Q: In Blessings you address issues of great social importance regarding the formation and preservation of family. What opinions about the nature of family, the legitimacy of parenthood/childhood, and the bonds in community do you hope this book will convey? In your opinion who should have kept the baby?


A: I think nature/nurture questions are intrinsically interesting no matter which side of the fence you fall on. I think it's clear that I believe the right of parenthood can be conferred simply by care and love. In some fashion Skip will always be Faith's father, certainly more than her biological father. But one of the things he feels keenly is that blood has a strong pull, and that motherhood is powerful. Andthose sentiments lead to the action of the book, both for him and for Mrs. Blessing. I think Skip does the right thing within the moral context of everyday life. Whether it's ultimately the right thing for Faith–well, only time will tell. I think doing the right thing is what this book is really about, and the sad true fact that you usually can only apprehend that in retrospect. Most of the good choices you make are by happenstance. I think that's particularly clear here in Mrs. Blessing's life.

Q: The secrets of the past and their effect on the actions of people in the present is a prevalent theme in this novel. What compelled you to give this idea such prominence?

A: I think all families have secrets. Some of them are benign, even positive; for instance, I think a healthy family might be one in which each of the children believes he or she is Mom's favorite. And parents and children always keep a part of themselves secret from one another because they don't want to upset or disappoint. The secrets are different than they were in Mrs. Blessing's day, when everyone pretended they didn't exist, when nine-pound babies were pronounced premature because they'd been born seven months after a wedding and gay men had to live shadow existences with wives and children. But more secrets are born out of love than out of shame, even today. That's why Sunny and Benny don't tell Lydia what she eventually discovers: because they adore her and don't want to rock her world. By the time it is rocked, she's ready for it. I think total honesty is overvalued. Sometimes it's more important to be kind than to be honest. I know that's unfashionable, but so be it.


Q: Writers are often told, “write what you know.” Blessings is told from two perspectives, those of both a young man and an elderly woman, two points of view unlike your own. How did you find and develop their voices in your writing? How did you go about developing a structure for the novel that would convey these two focal characters and the ideas about time and memory in a literarily tangible way? What were the difficulties or advantages of writing a book that incorporates storylines in both the past and the present?

A: Mrs. Blessing offered me an extraordinary opportunity, one that I've never had before as a writer. In sum, it was all there. What I mean by that is that usually when you're writing about someone they are at a specific moment when they're coming of age, or starting a family, or building a work life. But with a woman of 80, which is what Lydia Blessing is in this novel, you have it all: the young woman, the young wife, the mother, the middle-aged matron, the old woman. All of them are coexisting, at least in her mind. And so it's such a rich vein to mine for the writer, except that most of it is backstory. That's how elderly people live; as Lydia says at one point, the past dances with the present in your mind. One thing reminds you of another. Structurally it's helpful if you can simply let your narrative meander in the way our memories do, and that's what I tried to do here. Skip, on the other hand, is only 24. He has very little backstory, so most of the real action of the book coalesces around him. And that was convenient from a narrative standpoint as well. I'm not sure it would have worked if either character had been the only protagonist. But alternating the two of them seemed to offer me two different ways of telling the same story.

Q: The descriptions of Skip's love for Faith are remarkable. How much did you draw on your own experience as a mother in writing about Faith?

A: Part of my struggle with Faith was that babies make lousy characters. There's only so many ways they can hit themselves in the face before the reader has had enough of it. (I'm trying to think of a good baby in a book. Most of them are symbols of sexual license: “The Scarlet Letter” and so forth. They're not real characters.) And while I was lucky and had very easy babies myself, I didn't want her to be too angelic: hence the early scene in which she cries all night and throws up all over the bedroom. But my pediatrician always used to say that she saw an unmistakable link between those parents who loved their work, and those babies who were relatively easy to work with. Of course, Skip loves his work. As did I. However, my children are all teenagers now and I found that I'd forgotten a good bit about raising infants, probably because I was so sleep-deprived at the time. I cheated a little, used websites and baby books to keep track of the age at which Faith would have smiled and rolled over and slept through the night. I just love infants. Everyone projects onto them. And of course projection is a useful way of limning character.

Q: You are well known for crafting wonderful female characters, true heroines. Blessings was a departure for you in that the focal point of the story is a man, whom, by traditional standards, might be considered a bit unsual, in that he has an astonishing “maternal instinct.” How did you conceive of Skip, and what was it like to write him?

A: There are a lot of men like Skip, who are most comfortable in a nurturing role but simply aren't given the opportunity to fill one. In fact he's roughly patterned on my son Christopher, to whom the book is dedicated, who has that same combination of sweetness and care, integrity and honesty. I've had a history of being pretty tough on guys in my novels, although I redeemed myself somewhat in “Black and Blue” with the male teacher with whom Fran Flynn becomes involved. But even in that book the central male figure was so horrific that the gender balance of the book was off. I wanted to work it in a different way here, with a somewhat harsh and unlikeable female character–two, actually, if you count Nadine–and a warm and nurturing male character. Actually, my favorite character in the book is a man, Sunny Blessing, who I just find irresistible even if he's a kind of vivid ghost. And I like Benny a lot, too. I suppose at some level the male characters in this novel are a testimonial to the fact that both my boys are now men, and pretty terrific men at that.

Q: What books have affected you (on both personal and professional levels) over the course of your life? What are you reading now?

A: Oh, I hate “best” lists. The book I'm recommending to everyone right now is “The Lovely Bones,” a first novel by Alice Sebold that is simply wonderful. It's the story of a 14-year-old girl murdered by a neighbor and it's told from her perspective as she looks down from heaven and watches her family try to go on without her. I think it's going to be a great classic, one of those books people read for years because it's so moving and true. I'm also rereading “Dombey and Sons” because I reread one long Dickens novel every summer. I always learn something about the use of detail, the description of minor characters and the marriage of social conscience and lively storytelling. Don DeLillo is the Dickens of our age; I thought “Underworld” was the most successful ambitious novel I've read in years. But you can't discount the miniaturists. “Pride and Prejudice,” which I reread last summer, is still the perfect novel about how infuriating it can be to be female. Alice McDermott's “Charming Billy” was a small book with the whole world inside.

Q: When incorporating theme and social reflection into a novel, are you conscious that you are doing it? Do you have messages you want to convey to your reader, or do they emerge on their own terms? What do you want readers to take away from this story and from your writing in general?

I must say I hate talking about my novels once they're done. To begin with, so much of what I do is intuitive that I find it very difficult to explain or describe. And then I always find that readers find things in the book that I hadn't really seen but that are indubitably true. So I'm happiest when people explain my work to me, rather than the other way around.
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Reading Group Guide

1. Blessings is a title that holds a great deal of meaning for this book, as the name of the Blessings’ house, but also in the metaphysical sense of the word.. Before reading the book, what did the title Blessings suggest to you? Did it create any expectations or shape the way you reflected on the book as you read? When you finished the book, what meaning did you take away from the title Blessings?

2. The Washington Post has said of Anna Quindlen’s work, “Quindlen knows that all the things we ever will be can be found in some forgotten fragment of family.” Family seems to be connected to many of the fundamental and important themes of the novel. How might this tribute be applied to Blessings?

3. The formation and preservation of family, traditional or not, is one of the prominent, underlying themes of the novel, and Quindlen introduces us to several families throughout. Describe some of these families, their relationships, and the ways in which these families function as such. How are they similar? Different? What effect do these similarities or differences have on the characters and the story as a whole? Is one individual important in each group, if so, how?

4. How does Quindlen show the evolution of what is typically considered “family” over the course of the book? Do you think that Skip, Lydia, and Faith have formed a genuine family? If so, why, and if not, why not?

5. At the heart of Blessings is the issue of legitimacy. By traditional standards, both Meredith, Lydia’s own daughter, and Faith would be deemed “illegitimate” children. When Faith’s mother emerges, and seeks custody of her child, issues of the legitimacy of Faith’s life with Skip are raised. What makes a person legitmate, or illegitimate today, or for you? Who decides, or who should decide?

6. In a society and a world that is constantly changing, is there such a thing as a “normal” family? What makes the “family” of Blessings–Skip, Lydia, and Faith–either normal or unusual, and what allows them to function as a family unit?

7. Love as a natural process is a prevalent theme in Blessings, and Quindlen shows it to be both instinctual and learned. Where do we see love as a natural instinct, and where do we see it as a learned quality? How do these differences in abilities and capacities for love shed light on the various characters? What do these emotional variations ultimately say about the nature of love and loyalty?

8. All of the main characters, including Faith, have histories that haunt them. Lydia harbors the memory of her brother, and Skip finds himself constantly trying to escape an unwarranted but poor reputation. In Blessings, how does the past become an influential part of the present? At what points does memory affect characters’ actions in the present, or change the way in which a specific event is played out? Do either Lydia or Skip ever fully escape their pasts, or must they embrace them in order to lead fuller, more productive lives in the present?

9. The narrative structure of Blessings provides a literary framework that is important to the story and to our ability to connect with its characters. Describe the book’s narrative structure. What effect did it have on your experience as a reader? Did the time-present/time-past structure of Lydia’s story, interwoven with the day-to-day story of life at Blessings, allow her to be a more sympathetic character? How does the narrative structure of the novel parallel, tap into, and connect with some of the book’s themes?

10. The notion of individuality figures prominently into Blessings, and brings up questions about the individual’s place in the community, and the advantages and disadvantages of social conformity. Give some examples of scenes or situations from the book where the beliefs of an individual are challenged by the value system of a community. The situation which comes to the forefront of this issue is Skip’s ultimate decision to return Faith to her birth-mother, so she can be raised in a more traditional family. Do you agree with Skip’s decision? Were you satisfied with this conclusion? If not, how would you have liked to see it end?

11. Several characters discover a sense of redemption by the close of the novel. In what ways did you, as a reader, sense Skip and Lydia had been redeemed, and what were the causes of that process? The redemptive power of love is prevalent throughout. In what other characters do we see this change?

12. Quindlen uses dialogue as a tool not only to explain what a character is thinking or doing at the moment, but to provide insight into what moves and compels his or her actions and emotions. Through dialogue, Quindlen allows the reader to really get into the mind of a character. Discuss the nuances of the dialogue used throughout the book. How do speech patterns and thought patterns differ, and how do these differences influence your view and understanding of a given character?

13. Avid readers of Quindlen’s work may be familiar with her non-fiction writings and journalism. As a Quindlen fan, was there anything about Blessings that reminded you of Quindlen’s journalistic perspective–aspects such as astute observation of people, story-telling ability, etc.–that called to mind the skills of a good reporter?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 76 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(28)

4 Star

(19)

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(9)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    Wonderful, poignant book!

    This book will be one that you will reach for even after it's over. The story is beautiful and the characters are flawed in an endearing way. I read this in snatches (small children at home) but it was wonderful and SO easy to "get back into.":-) At one point it made me cry and my 4 year old couldn't understand how a book can make you cry - keep the tissues handy. It is a story you will be glad you read! The book makes you feel like you are there - beautifully written and incredible descriptions of a home past it's prime.:-) Enjoy and pass it on - well worth the read!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2008

    True Love Unfolds Secrets

    This is another great piece of writing from Anna Quindlen who is dependable whether in columns or novels. Her characters are real, her descriptions of love are honest and the story unfolds with secrets wrapped within secrets. There is emotional truth on every page and an ending that speaks to enduring love and decency.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book is very good. The story skips from Lydia's past to her present alot. But the storyline of Skip and Faith is wonderful. I wish the ending would have been different but oh well.... Wonderful story!!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2005

    Fails to deliver

    I bought the book on a whim, and I was greatly disappointed. I finished it, but it was tough. The idea is riveting, but the author fails to deliver the twists with a dramatic flare. Therefore, the portions where readers should be shocked, fall with an anticlimatic bang. Another problem was the description in the book. She described the scenes to the point of obsurdity. At times I found myself reading on and on about chairs.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2004

    BORING! BORING! BORING!

    I have started this book FOUR times, and cannot get into it! Quindlen needs a good editor, who will separate the wheat from the chaff...break up some of the rambling sentences, for starters. One sentence was 50 words long, another was 83! An 83 word SENTENCE! That's ludicrous! Yes, I found the book so boring that I resorted to counting words in sentences! I don't know HOW this book ever made the NY Times Best Seller list!

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 6, 2011

    beautiful life lessons

    Blessings tells the story of Lydia Blessings, an old woman who lives by herself in a large house with her namesake. She has a new gardener/handyman named Skip who lives in an apartment above the garage, and a cantankerous maid named Nadine. One night Skip finds a newborn baby in a box lying on his doorstep. At first he tries to hide her from everyone, but eventually everyone at Blessings knows about the baby. Soon they all begin to see their own lives transformed by the influence of this tiny, innocent creature. Lydia especially finds her own heart softening, reliving past memories of her own childhood, as well as her daughter's childhood.
    The main message I found running through the book is no one is an island. We all must have interaction with other human beings in order to survive. Indeed, if we truly want to thrive, the only way to do this is to cultivate meaningful relationships with others. Faith, the baby left on Skip's doorstep, is the physical embodiment of this message. She literally won't survive unless Skip takes care of her. Lydia is the emotional embodiment of the message. She seems to be a recluse, hiding in her house, hardly daring to even go outside. And yet, she will peek through her windows with binoculars to watch what goes on outside. She needs social interaction, but denies herself of it. But as the story progresses, Lydia opens herself up bit by bit to her friends and family, and finds healing for her own heart.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2007

    Reader enhances writer

    Joan Allen meets Anna Quindlen: what a great match. Previous reviews are of book only, but the combination of Allen's reading of Quindlen's text makes something very special indeed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2005

    unbelievable premise

    It was difficult to believe that the caretaker would want to raise the infant and the author failed to explain this. Also there was too much going back and forth from the past to the present which made the reading choppy. I was disappointed since I had just finished reading Black and Blue by the same author and thought that was very good.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2004

    out of character - totally unbelievable

    Bad characterization. Our disbelief with the character caused us to mistrust the rest of the plot - and abandon the book after the fourth chapter. We are glad that we only borrowed the volume, and not bought it. Waste of money and time. If you are so naive as to believe this plot and characterization, then go ahead and buy.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2014

    Mating/vigil funeral ceromonies sign ups be posted here.

    Please post the couple or dead cats names and also include who is coming. Tell how you want it to be. See you there! ~ Silentstream

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2014

    To Silentstream

    This is not by the Warriors books. There is no ceremony for mating, and vigils are held, you know, in THEIR OWN CLAN. Mating is just celebrated when the queen has her kits, and sometimes the father isn't even known.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2014

    Highly recommend

    I loved this book. It was a intricate tale told with Anna Quindlen's wonderful way with words. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in a richly woven story of the human heart with all it's ups and downs. The setting came to life in it's beauty and was the perfect backdrop for the novel's past and present characters, as they wove their way through their lives meeting and changing as they aged.

    Sandine

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2013

    Abhy

    Is bjorn on?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2013

    Abby

    Yes

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2013

    Love her

    All of her books move me...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2013

    Fair

    Not the best.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2006

    OK

    Ultimately, Anna Quindlen has proven she is a better observer of life than as a novelist. I think Blessings is the epitome of this truth. Blessings was not a bad novel, as it was overwrought with sometimes seemingly unimportant past recollections with characters, especially with Lydia Blessings. Skip Cuddy was the most fascinating of the characters, exceeding my expectations. As with what Quindlen often discusses is the relationships with our family and how that inevitably interacts with the quintessential question 'Who am I?' An irritating aspect of this novel was that Quindlen wrote in highly stream of conciousness mode of skipping from the present tense into the past tense. Disappointing, but I will still read Quindlen.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2004

    Estate Planting

    After a slow start, I was very impressed by this book. From the reviews and description on the book jacket, I was afraid that this would be Anne Tyler Lite. While I like her writing very much, this book was much deeper than what I have read by Tyler, if not as intimately written as Tyler's books. Like Richard Russo's Empire Falls (one of my all-time favorites) the book deals with a wealthy matriarch living in a large estate. But unlike that book, which held the old lady up as an enigma, Blessings gets into her mind by having her help her groundskeeper raise an infant left on his garage/apartment doorstep (the baby was obviously left there to be taken care of the rich owner of the estate). The most interesting parts of the book are the flashbacks into her own life that explain what forced her out of Manhattan debutante life and into lifelong exile at her family's country estate. At time the book reminded me of Ian McEwan's Atonement, but never actually reaches the heights of that book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2004

    Anna Quindlen Rocks!

    Wow. This was an excellent book. Anna Quindlen keeps a wonderfully soft grip on the reader with her extraordinary character development and perfect pacing. I loved the book. I loved the characters. Most of all, I loved the subtext of the book for its definition of family.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2003

    A Blessing to Read!

    My first contact with a Quindlen manuscript. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. There were some spots that dragged (Lydia's past). Lydia, Skip, Jennifer, Nadine - all strong character developments. Reminded me of 'The Lovely Bones'. Same lyrical style as Belva Plain. A predictable story line but revelations on family, love, loss, and redemption make it a worthwhile read. Readable on a rainy day with a good cup of coffee.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 76 Customer Reviews

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