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Black and Blue ()

Oprah's Book Club

First of all, let me freely admit that I find Anna Quindlen's brand of identity politics so repellent that there was simply no chance that I would give this book a fair reading.   (For a sample of her fatuous political philosophy, check out her essay:  When Reasonable-Woman Standards Are Applied, Society Will Benefit which essentially asks that we abandon objective legal standards in favor of subjective ones.)  But I do also have to admit that in one very specific sense I found this book to be a page-turner: I couldn't wait to see how she would reconcile her liberal ideology with the logical requirements of the story she has to tell.  However, my eager anticipation went for naught, as she instead disregards logic and simply yields the story to ideology.

The novel tells the story of a woman who flees an abusive husband and, with the help of a modern day underground railroad, establishes new identities for herself and her son in Florida.  The book opens after she has fled, so the only possible dramatic conclusion to the story is a final confrontation with the husband.  The husband by the way is naturally a New York City cop--we all know how awful the police are--and just in case she's been too subtle in her approach to the material, Quindlen makes it clear that in addition to being abusive, he is also a racist and a homophobe, though oddly enough, the wife who grew up in the same milieu and has been married to him for umpteen years is completely devoid of any prejudice whatsoever.  And how does this bright, resourceful woman prepare for the showdown that we can all tell is coming?  She keeps a crowbar under the bed.  That's right, a crowbar, not a gun.

Ms Quindlen is so tightly bound by her own doctrinal opposition to guns that she does not allow her heroine to take the single most sensible step for self-protection available to a woman in her position.  Horror movies notoriously rely on the convention of having the central characters make idiotic choices; I've not seen it but have read that in the new film Scary Movie a character is being pursued by the killer and sees a table with something like a submachine gun, a hand grenade, a chain saw and a banana, and chooses the banana to defend herself.  This is funny in the context of a horror spoof, but in the context of what is seemingly supposed to be a realistic depiction of an abused woman, her metaphorical choice of the banana is not merely unbelievable, but also profoundly annoying.  The wife, Fran Benedetto, has already strained the reader's patience with statements which appear to make her a nearly willing accomplice to the beatings in the first place:

    Whatever it was that made me soft and wet and warm whenever Bobby Benedetto whispered in my
    ear was part of whatever it was that made him twist my arm and slap my face.

But with the tension of the plot and Fran's own intuition of danger mounting, one struggles in the face of this stupidity to control a powerful urge to yell at the book : Get serious, buy a gun!  Alas, she heeds Ms Quindlen, not the reader, and so in the inevitable final sequence her husband beats her into unconsciousness and takes back their son.  The entire thing reads like a cautionary tale from Charlton Heston: Danger! This could happen to you!

There's nothing wrong with the practice of authors allowing their political convictions to guide their fiction.  Indeed, George Orwell argued, and I would agree, that all writing is political.  Ms Quindlen's problem is not her political views specifically, though they are loathsome; her real problem is that she allows those politics to disfigure her story.  It is simply not plausible that a responsible, terrified adult would fail to arm herself in this situation.  The failure to take this necessary precaution lends an unfortunate air of "just desserts" to her final beating and the loss of her child.  Authors are entitled to make certain demands of their readers, but asking them to be sympathetic to a character who behaves this stupidly is asking too much.


Grade: (D+)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Anna Quindlen
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Black and Blue
    -ESSAY: When Reasonable-Woman Standards Are Applied, Society Will Benefit  (Anna Quindlen)
    -ESSAY: Public & Private; Don't Read This (ANNA QUINDLEN, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Public & Private; Two World Views  (Anna Quindlen, New York Times)
    -ESSAY: Public & Private; Poetry Emotion  (Anna Quindlen, New York Times)
    -ESSAY: Public & Private; The One Who Had Fun  (Anna Quindlen, New York Times)
    -ESSAY: Public & Private; Death: The Best Seller   (Anna Quindlen, New York Times)
    -ESSAY: PUBLIC & PRIVATE; Publish Or Perish   (Anna Quindlen, New York Times)
    -ESSAY: How Dark? How Stormy? I Can't Recall (Anna Quindlen, New York Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: About New York; DEJA VU IN A CLUTTERED BOOKSHOP   (Anna Quindlen, New York Times)
    -ESSAY: About New York: Officer; ON BEACH PATROL, HEAT'S THE LEAST OF THE PROBLEMS  (Anna Quindlen, New York Times)
    -REVIEW: of ABORTION The Clash of Absolutes. By Laurence H. Tribe (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of RACHEL AND HER CHILDREN Homeless Families in America. By Jonathan Kozol (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LOUISA MAY ALCOTT Selected Fiction (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER By Thomas Disch (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE DREAM BOOK An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women. Edited with an introduction by Helen Barolini (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Seven Brave Women By Betsy Hearne  (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ORSON WELLES A Biography. By Barbara Leaming and  ORSON WELLES The Rise and Fall of an American Genius. By Charles Higham (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of MY BROTHER By Jamaica Kincaid  (Anna Quindlen, NY Times Book Review)
    -OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB: Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen (
    -BOOKNOTES: Author: Anna Quindlen Title: Thinking Out Loud: On the Personal, the Political, the Public and the Private (CSPAN)
    -INTERVIEW: From facts to fiction: Quindlen explores changing identities in "Black and Blue" (Bobbie Battista, CNN)
    -INTERVIEW: Getting out: What happens when a marriage goes wildly, completely bad? (Alice Cary, Book Page)
    -INTERVIEW: A Western Canon Jr. (MARION LONG, Home Arts)
    -INTERVIEW: The Originator, Not the Imitator (Marion Winik, Austin Chronicle)
    -INTERVIEW: Anna Quindlen (New York, PBS)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue (All Things Considered, NPR)
    -BOOK SITE: Black and Blue (Random House)
    -PROFILE : St. Anna : With her cloying new inspirational book, Anna Quindlen joins Martha and Oprah as the latest example of a secular savior. (Louis Bayard, Salon)
    -ARTICLE: The hands that rocked the capital : Nearly a million mothers take their gun control message to Washington while the Second Amendment Sisters stage a feisty sideshow.  (ALEXANDRA STARR, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Reaching to the converted : Oprah's Book Club introduces readers to people they already know -- themselves (Gavin McNett, Salon)
    -DISCUSSION: Discussion Questions for  Black and Blue
    -REVIEW: of BLACK AND BLUE By Anna Quindlen (MAUREEN CORRIGAN, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of BLACK AND BLUE By Anna Quindlen (Maggie Paley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Laura Green, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Michelle Goldberg, Women's Wire)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Chuck Erion, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Martha Bagnall, Yale review of Books)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Felice Aull, Medical Humanities)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue (Michelle Dally Johnston, Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue Despite insights, Quindlen's fiction  lacks her journalism's core: real life (BARBARA LISS, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Black and Blue Fugitive Life of a Battered Wife: Details of a Home Torn Apart (Marilyn Gardner, Christian Science Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Object Lessons by Anna Quindlen (MAUREEN HOWARD, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of OBJECT LESSONS By Anna Quindlen (Anne Tyler, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of One True Thing By Anna Quindlen (LYNNE SHARON SCHWARTZ, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ONE TRUE THING By Anna Quindlen (Frederick Busch, NY Times Book Review)

    -Just For Ladies: has compiled HUNDREDS or resources for domestic abuse

    -Bureau of Justice Statistics
    -GUN DEATH DATA: GMWK I Total Deaths For Each Cause By 5-Year Age Groups, United States, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997
    -Deaths/Mortality (All figures are for U.S.) (CDC)
    -Do more guns cause less crime? (Tim Lambert)
    -Intellectual Capital: The Gun Control Debate
    -The Journalist's Guide to Gun Policy Scholars and Second Amendment Scholars: Featuring experts -- liberals, moderates, and conservatives -- whose research has led them to be skeptical of gun control (compiled by Prof. Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law School, (310) 206-3926)
    -Reason's Gun Page :  A wealth of resources examining the war on firearms
    -ESSAY: Taking the Second Amendment Seriously : Finally, and for good reason, a gun control statute has been struck down as unconstitutional. (Nelson Lund, Weekly Standard)

    -Center to Prevent Handgun Violence / Handgun Control (legal action, research and education affiliate of Handgun Control)
    -Children's Safety Network (CSN) National Injury and Violence Prevention Resource Center (resources and technical assistance to maternal and child health agencies and other organizations seeking to reduce unintentional injuries and violence to children and adolescents)
    -Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
    -Criminal Justice and the Second Amendment (Independence Institute)
    -Gun Cite: Gun Control and Second Amendment Issues
    -Gun Control Studies
    -Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan (HELP) Network  (network of over 100 medical and allied organizations promoting public health-based strategies to reduce gun deaths and injuries, especially among children)
    -Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research
    -Join Together
    -Gun Control Hurts Women (Independent Women's Forum)
    Million Mom March
    -National Rifle Association

    -Gun Rights (


Orrin, While it is touching that you did your homework on the author's political convictions, you may try truly analyzing a novel before jumping to conclusions. I think it is truly apparent that in Black and Blue, Fran Benedetto is not naive or stupid to fail to keep a gun in the house. Would an intelligent woman truly think that she could outshoot her husband who happens to be a police officer? True, a crowbar does not prove to be a suitable alternative, but this choice holds true the Fran's characterization. Women who are in abusive relationships do not stay in them because they are stupid. Nor do they fail defend themselves with guns for the same reason. Simply owning a gun does not constitute protection against an abusive spouse. I believe you are wrong in labeling the novel in the manner you have.

- annon.

- Jan-24-2003, 00:02