Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott
I’ve got to tell you. I flat out love Anne Lamott. She was there when I was getting sober, cost me my (ha!) dignity while reading in public by causing snorting, giggling, and once, weeping. She just seems like someone I would love to have as a friend, and someone who is like many of my friends. I’m lucky that way.
Elizabeth Ferguson is a recurring figure for Ms Lamott. One can be forgiven for suspecting that she is a fairly thinly disguised version of Ms Lamott herself, having some of the same flaws, and endearing vulnerabilities already confessed to by the author.
Elizabeth is surrounded by a circle of friends that anyone would envy: her friend Rae, who is warm, wise, generous, and pees a little when she laughs…what could be better than that? Rae’s husband, Lank, invented a ministry just for Elizabeth called “Seeing the Light Ministry”. The main tenet is WAIT or, “why am I talking?” when dealing with teenagers who are trying to provoke a fight. “Lank provided Elizabeth with Seeing the Light responses to everyday demands, such as “ The instructions are inside the lid of the washer”. And finally, there is James, Elizabeth’s second husband and Rosie’s stepfather, after her natural father died when she was young. James is supportive, funny, loving, open, and importantly, less vulnerable to manipulation than Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and her daughter Rosie have now reached Rosie’s 17th year. Rosie has been, in many ways, an exceptional child…tennis star, smart, beautiful, and wise beyond her years…sometimes having had to be the parent to Elizabeth in the wake of her father’s death, and Elizabeth’s alcoholism. Rosie has become that most feared of all creatures: the human teenager. And who among us has not been on the receiving end of that look;the one that reduces us from fully functioning adult to the lamest organism ever to stain the tiles of the mall.
But worse than the attitude, is that the evidence keeps mounting that Rosie is using drugs. She is lying; she is manipulating; her friends are not good for her. All textbook parental terror bells. And it just keeps getting worse the more James and Elizabeth try to step in and control the situation. A major contributing factor is Elizabeth’s vulnerability and secret guilt about her own alcoholism. She knows that Rosie has seen her drunk on numerous occasions, and recently in a couple of emotional meltdowns. She secretly fears she doesn’t have any credibility, or even the right to demand more of Rosie. She fears she was a poor parent, and is over lenient as a result. More than anything, she fears the loss of Rosie’s love, and Rosie knows that, and uses it to her own advantage. James sees this underplay and is powerless to stop it.
This book can be difficult at times because it is so frustratingly real. I found myself wanting to slap some sense into Rosie, and yes, into Elizabeth as well, even while my heart broke for her. She stumbles a bit, and bumps into the furniture, but makes the right decisions, aided by James and her friends, and ultimately by Rosie herself.
This is the story of facing your deepest fears and doing what you know to be right, despite what it may cost you, because you may face a greater loss if you don’t. It’s funny, and sad, and sweet, and heartbreaking, and inspiring, like so much of Lamott’s work. Her honesty, the reverence she has for everyday courage, and the beauty she sees in the flaws that make us individuals are as refreshing as her humor. Ms Lamott seems to genuinely appreciate people and I’m glad to say that we appreciate her back.
Imperfect Birds, Anne Lamott
Coming in April 2010 Riverhead Books, Penguin Group