Anna Quindlen’s Blessings was just what I was looking for in a book to read on the plane on my way home from Seattle. It’s a light and easy read, nothing too brain-challenging, but it’s also heartwarming without being sentimental. Quindlen has created interesting characters and raised questions that made me stop and think a little. This is classic “women’s fiction” — engaging, warm, and life-affirming, with an ending that is positive enough to keep the book well out of the wrist-slitty section of the library, but realistic enough to avoid a candy-coated happily-ever-after.
The “Blessings” of the title is (at least on the surface) the name of an old house in New England (or upstate New York? My memory is a little vague on the geography, but it’s reasonably close to New York City). An old lady named Lydia Blessing lives there, reflecting with some dissatisfaction on her life, which has not turned out to be all she had hoped. Her young caretaker, Skip, is also living a life of disappointment, although he’s only twenty-four. After a bad start in life, he seems to have trouble making a better life for himself, even though he tries. He reflects that maybe people can’t ever get out of the ruts that family, social class and community have cared for them.
But something unexpected happens when a teenage girl abandons her baby in a cardboard box on the step of Blessings garage. I mean, it’s unexpected for the character. The reader knows that Skip will fall in love with and care for the baby, that Lydia will be drawn into the conspiracy, and that the two characters will not only form a close bond over their love for the baby, but also grow as human beings. There’s nothing unpredictable here (though I was not entirely sure how the ending would work out, and there were a few surprises here). The pleasure in reading a novel like Blessings is not in seeing what’s around the next plot twist, but rather in seeing how the author will get us there, and in getting to know her likable characters along the way.
In the end, everyone discovers that — yes, you can change your life, and be something different from what you were destined to be, though not everyone grasps the possibility. Being able to make that kind of a change is the real “Blessing” of the title.
Quindlen sketches the details of life in the highest and lowest niches of American society in a very believable way. Skip’s low-life friends who hold him back from starting a new life are particularly realistic (I probably don’t have the background to tell you whether the upper-class characters are equally realistic, which tells you more about me than it does about Anna Quindlen!) This was an easy, enjoyable read which I recommend to anyone who enjoys contemporary American women’s fiction, particularly if you have a long plane ride ahead of you.