If there were a contest – something not physical that involves grammar, maybe – to show who was the biggest Anne Lamott fan, I would definitely fight my little wordy-nerdy heart out to win it, just for the title. This woman’s work has, fundamentally, changed my life – both my outlook and my writing. Her books Traveling Mercies, Plan B, and Grace Eventually gave me the space to look at my own faith with humor and with, well, grace. Bird by Bird is my favorite writing book because it is written in Lamott’s voice with her sarcasm, wryness, and and wisdom.
BUT her fiction has always left me cold. I’ve read most, if not all, of her novels, and most, if not all, have left me rather flat. The writing is clear and the story solid, but there hasn’t been much vim or vigor in them. UNTIL NOW. Imperfect Birds is just the right combination of great story, strong characters, and Lamott’s wit. I was listening to the car, and it made me want to sit in Beltway traffic.
The basic gist of the book is that Rosie (yes, the same Rosie from some of Lamott’s other novels if you’re keeping track), the teenage daughter of Elizabeth and step-father James, has developed some pretty awful practices during her junior and senior years of high school. The book is the story of her parents and other loved ones as they try to negotiate Rosie’s choices and keep her safe. Maybe because the book deals with issues of addiction and recovery and family and identity, all issues that Lamott has personally struggled with, it has a depth and complexity that I don’t remember in her other fiction (although I’m now tempted to reread some of them.) The character of James – a writer – is hysterical and poignant, and Elizabeth captures that woman in all of us who feels like she’s just about to lose it in one second, just after she weeds the garden.
I don’t know how much of my reading pleasure was caused by the fact that I was listening to the book instead of scanning it with my eyes, but I did really enjoy it. I hope you’ll pick it up and give it a read. I really do.