Monday, August 15, 2011

‘Imperfect Birds’ by Anne Lamott – Book Review

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Since I have been reviewing books on my blog, I have gotten feedback that an author of great giftedness that is worth reading is Anne Lamott. My interest was piqued, and I had the opportunity to read her latest, ‘Imperfect Birds.’

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

Rosie Ferguson is seventeen and ready to enjoy the summer before her senior year of high school. She’s smart, athletic, and beautiful – everything her mother, Elizabeth, and stepfather, James, hoped she would be. But as the school year draws to a close, there are disturbing signs that the well-adjusted teenage life that Rosie claims to be leading is not as it seems, and that Elizabeth’s hopes for her daughter to remain immune from the world’s darker impulses could be dashed. Slowly and painfully, Elizabeth and James are forced to confront the fact that Rosie has been lying to them – and that her deceptions have profound consequences for them all. Imperfect Birds is Anne Lamott’s most honest and heartrending novel, exploring our human quest for connection and salvation as it exposes the traps that life – and we – set for ourselves.

Here is the biography of this author:

Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year, as well as several novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she lives in northern California.

Here is Part One of a Three-Part Interview between Ms. Lamott and Connie Martinson discussing this book:

Anne’s writing is so creative and powerful. Here she describes Elizabeth and James, the parents in this story:

His depression showed up as unpleasantness, grumbling self-pity, and running complaints about life. Normally this was their main amusement, good-natured comments about how ridiculous and hopeless everything was. Sometimes Elizabeth had to cross her legs to keep from peeing at his observations and outlandish lies. He’d say anything to make them both laugh and to life his own spirits. Just the other day, he had told people in line at Macy’s that Elizabeth was a falconer. Another time, he had told people at a protest rally that she had won a silver medal in the Munich Olympics – in dressage, of all things. She had just nodded upon hearing this and tried to look more horsey.
But while his depressions were infrequent, hers were chronic, lifelong and deep. They required extensive medication and periodic therapy to keep at bay the thoughts of killing herself or starting to drink again or both. (p. 11)

I was touched and intrigued by Elizabeth’s good friend, Rae, who positively affected her life:

Rae was Elizabeth’s authority on all things spiritual, because her beliefs were so simple and kind. You were loved because God loves, period. God loved you and everyone, not because you believed certain things, but because you were a mess, and lonely, and His or Her child. God loved you no matter how crazy you felt on the inside, no matter what a fake you were; always, even in your current condition, even before coffee. God loves you crazily, like I love you, Rae said, like a slightly overweight auntie, who sees only your marvelousness and need. (p. 16)

I found her writing to be extremely expressive and impressive. Here is a passage that I found to be amazing. Rosie’s amazing mind is described here:

Once, at two years old, before she was talking, she had started Andrew’s car. It seemed a philosophical thing, or instinctual hardwiring, that she could see relationships between things, a scientific version of what James had – the noticing genes necessary to be a good writer. Rosie’s mind liked to do things with its hands. She liked to imagine things that you could not see, like black holes and the far side of a pyramid. She was at home in the abstract realm of witnessing and synthesizing. (p. 32)

Partly based on Rae’s influence, and partly based on God’s presence in this world that is hard to ignore, Elizabeth called out to Him, although she wasn’t exactly sure to Whom she was calling:

She locked herself in the bathroom and cried silently until she was raw. Desperately, she tried to pray, until she remembered she didn’t believe in god – but she had felt that shard of something deep inside that she could only call not me, so she cried out in silence to the speck of light, Help me! I’m begging. She felt the wet pounding of her heart in her stuffed-up head. She hit the bathroom rug so hard that her head hurt, and she cradled it like an injured bird. (pp. 191-192)

Anne was born and raised in San Francisco, and still lives in that area, where this novel takes place. Her books are often autobiographical. I was not familiar with Anne’s life or story prior to reading this book, so I did some research. I have appreciated what I’ve learned; she seems very compassionate and empathetic. She wears her liberalism on her sleeve, and is also a person of faith. Her writing is a little more raw than what I have been used to of late, but it is real and thoughtful and profound. I definitely was moved by this book, and will be seeking out more Lamott titles, found in the fiction and non-fiction genres. This is the third book featuring the Ferguson clan – the first two being ‘Rosie’ and ‘Crooked Little Heart.’ I hope Ms. Lamott continues to tell us the story of this family; I am praying they come through their trials to be stronger on the other side.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Riverhead Books, a division of the Penguin Group, and provided by them for review purposes.

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