Anna Quindlen talks about her new memoir 'Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake'
Quindlen Krovatin (who happens to be her son) chats with the author about the book and the history behind it.
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BNR: I forget which author we were talking about, but it was an author who said that all of the books she writes are really about one theme.Skip to next paragraph
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AQ: Amy Bloom.
BNR: Right. Of course. I actually forget what the theme was.
AQ: I think she said love.
BNR: And you said that yours was motherhood. I think that's absolutely true. I was going back through that box you assembled for each of us of the first editions of all of your books, and I was struck by how it's always motherhood troubled by violence, or illness, or even just circumstance like in Blessings.
AQ: I actually think my theme is a combination of motherhood and loss, and clearly anybody who knows anything about my personal history knows where that comes from. My mother died when I was 19. In novel after novel, that emerges as a theme, most dramatically in Every Last One. It's actually not a theme of the novel I'm working on now.
BNR: Is the protagonist a mother?
AQ: She is. But it's not as important a part of her character as it is for most of the women I've written about in the past.
BNR: Because I was thinking about how even in Rise and Shine, which is one of your more lighthearted novels, Meghan Fitzmaurice's relationship with her son, Leo, is fraught.
AQ: It's not so true in my first novel, Object Lessons, which is more of a young person's novel. But then once you get to One True Thing, it clearly takes hold, this dual theme of motherhood and loss. I think it was something I had to explore until I felt like I'd explored it to its fullest. And if you look at my novels, Every Last One, the most recent one, is about as far as I could go in exploring that, which is why the new one doesn't need to be about motherhood as much.
BNR: That makes a lot of sense. How do you think having your Mom die when you were as young as you were affected how you approached being a mother?
AQ: I think it made me bound and determined to be there as much as possible. It had a lot to do with why I quit my job at the New York Times when I did, when you and Christopher were small. Which turned out to be an opportunity in disguise because that's when I started to write my column, Life in the 30s. And it's why I quit that column when Maria was born and took a year off with the three of you before I started the Op-Ed page column [Public and Private]. I just felt like life was short and I needed to be there. And I was haunted by the fact that my sister, your Aunt Theresa, was nine when our mother died, and she literally remembers nothing about her. And so I would look at you three, who were so central to my life, and think, I'm not even written on their DNA yet. I've got to be there as much as possible. I think it made me a very engaged and attentive mother.
BNR: Did your Mom's style of being a mother, her approach to motherhood, inform how you raised us? Did you try to emulate her?
AQ: I did, but that was an interesting challenge. In terms of our characters and what was going on in our lives, my Mother and I were vastly different. Which was something that I struggled with because I loved her so much, and the idea of being different from her made me feel a little less in her eyes when I was younger. She was not a particularly educated woman. She wasn't intellectual. She was just really good at making all five of us feel like we'd hung the moon. And that was the thing that I tried to emulate. That sense of each of your kids at various times thinking that they're the favorite.