Newsweek threw a cocktail party at the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan earlier this week to welcome new columnist Anna Quindlen. Once a popular New York Times writer, Quindlen left in 1994 to pursue fiction. A few bestselling novels followed ("One True Thing," "Black and Blue"),
each mining more life-and-death matters than the "Big Chill"-like boomer concerns her "Life in the Thirties" column did: getting married, moving to the suburbs, being wry and candid about the whole darn thing. ("Public & Private," her op-ed follow-up, aimed for more than hearth and home, as the name implied.)
Now she has returned to journalism in what the folks at Newsweek clearly view as a coup. At her party, amid a sea of company suits Quindlen hobnobbed and air-kissed with industry celebrities like former Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal, Tom Brokaw, ABC news honcho Shelby Coffey and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. In the dim light of the cloistered restaurant you could read a blow-up of her debut column. Barely.
Just as well, given that her opening number is a bit of a snore. Writing about the "Sensation" show at the Brooklyn Art Museum, Quindlen trots out more clichis than Roget's Thesaurus ("the overwhelming sensation is dij` vu all over again," "so much heat, so little light," "So much sound and fury, signifying nothing") to tackle a subject that has been pretty well pulverized by now. Would it surprise you to know that Quindlen comes out squarely on the side of freedom of expression and is diligently opposed to knee-jerk censorship?
Quindlen's column will alternate with George Will's in the newsweekly (she succeeds the late Meg Greenfield), but I hope hers are not meant as the liberal counterpoint to his astringent right-leaning columns. Say what you like about Will's politics, his is a prodigious intellect and he can be a pretty canny writer too (except when it comes to baseball and he gets as googly as a 10-year-old boy). In a welcome note from the editors, Quindlen is quoted as saying she would like to address "the subjects that perennially interest me -- poverty, welfare reform, reproductive rights, the lives of women and people of color" -- all worthy subjects a good deal trickier than the "Sensation" sensation (manufactured by a mayor and candidate for the Senate, Rudy Giuliani, in an obvious play to Catholic voters). Liberals (however you define them) deserve stronger stuff on tougher subjects.