Sitting in my first writing circle, I heard the name "Anne Lamott" tossed around quite a bit. It turns out that Anne wrote a book called Bird by Bird, which is just as noteworthy as Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones. At the recommendation of a woman in that writing circle, I began reading Anne's 1999 memoir, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, and I've been hooked on Anne Lamott ever since.
Grace is Lamott's eleventh book, completed during her twentieth year of sobriety. Short chapters gather vignettes and anecdotes in this 250-page memoir. She writes about her body, her teenager, her dog, her girlfriends with cancer, abortion, euthanasia, social justice, George Bush, and teaching Sunday school.
In "A Field Theory of Beauty," we go from Sam (her son) holding her face in his hands, saying, "I love that little face," to her trademark, self-deprecating humor.
"The neckage...the wattle and the wrinkles that gather like Roman shades. The liver spots. The soft pouch like a frog's vocal sac, or the gular pouches of Komodo dragons that now connect the chin to the neck. The neck is where it all shows. It's like the thighs of the head."
One of the things you learn about the author is how important her friends are to her. In "Dandelions," she talks about someone she dislikes at a distance and then narrows in on someone she dislikes up close.
"I don't hate anyone right now, not even George W. Bush...I learned how to unhate Bush the only way people ever really learn things—by doing. It's a terrible system. If I were God, I would have provided a much easier way—an Idiot's Guide, or a spiritual ATM, or maybe some kind of compromise."
Although not your typical Anne Lamott of quirky metaphor and idiosyncratic timing, my hands-down favorite chapter is "The Last Story of Spring." In it, we trek up Mount Tam with a less evangelical, more mystical Lamott entranced with both the terror of the moment and the grace of life-goes-on at the same time. She speaks of a "Holy Spirit snatch" taking the wheel and driving Lily (her dog) and her to Mount Tam one day.
"When Lily and I had walked another 15 minutes...Lily tore off farther up the mountain. [Then] I realized Lily was missing. After a while...panic set in. I thought of Lily's lonely death on the mountain. I thought of wolves eating her...I saw Lily heading for the dropoff...but she veered off to the right and disappeared...down the Canyon of Death...[Then] The last person on earth I was expecting came along...in fairy tales the helper always appears in a form that doesn't look very helpful, yet that's who's going to get you out of the woods...all of a sudden I saw Lily bolting toward us...We were not walking into the abyss; not today."
The book ends with Anne humiliating herself in front of her entire congregation via e-mail. Once again, she places herself in need of "forgivishness," and we understand why the word "eventually" is in the book's title. Grace does not come once and depart; it comes again and again, and not always on our timetable.
This is a more reflective book than Lamott's others. The tone is deeper, darker at times, and more reverent. It is just as honest and almost as funny, but the maturation that is going on inside her is so palpable that it trumps all else.
Anne Lamott is one of the best selling authors in America. The daughter of an atheist, alcoholic New Yorker writer, she grew up in the 1950s in Marin County. Saved from her own addictions by a conversion experience, she is an active member of "St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, Marin City. Services at eleven." Her books include five novels and six memoirs. Her column in Salon magazine was voted Best of the Web by Newsweek, and she is a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship.
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