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. (Sept. 24)
Forecast:Count on this feel-good novel, a book that will appeal to the entire family, to ring up bestseller sales as a perfect Christmas gift.