Sunday, May 2, 2010

Imperfect Birds

I love Anne Lamott's books.  She is a strong writer with the heart of a poet, so I always find them enjoyable.
I noticed the comment by David Sheff (author of Beautiful Boy) on the back cover of this one:  "Heartbreaking and delightful, moving and hopeful...reminds us how our children are connected to and independent of us, and that no matter how difficult our struggle is with them, love underlies it all and saves us."  That kind of spoke to me.  I happen to be the mother of a 19 year old who is trying to find his way in the world, and kind of doing a sloppy and imperfect job of it, so I thought this might be a good read for me at this moment in time.
Rosie Ferguson is in her senior year of high school.  Outwardly she seems perfect.  But she is an addict.  The book is primarily about the relationship between Rosie and Elizabeth, her stay-at-home-Mom, who is a recovering alchoholic.  There are some delightful secondary characters that add to the charm of the story; Rosie's stepfather James, his best friend Lank, and Lank's wife Rae (who is also Elizabeth's best friend).  James is a little harder for Rosie to fool, and Lank works with kids and is a realist, saying at one point "I work with them every day, and even the good kids break your heart.  They can be so wonderful, then just diabolical.  They'll all lie, even when the truth would work."  And Rae, well  she's the resident "Earth Mother", who thinks love is the solution to everything.  
Lamott really captures the experience of parents who fear for their children with great insight and humor.  Her character Elizabeth says at one point in the book "life with most teenagers was like having a low-grade bladder infection. It's hard but you just have to tough it out."  I found myself jotting page numbers down as I read the book, because there were passages that were stated so beautifully, they just had to be read another time or two. 
It is a tough yet tender book that will break your heart, and yet mend it too.  The slow and painful process the parents go through in peeling away the lies and deception involved in addictive behavior is beautifully rendered.  And without giving away what happens to Rosie at the end, Lamott manages to use these imperfect characters to show us what it means to be a family, to bring home some lovely life lessons, and Rosie learns that there is a wilderness inside of her, yes, but there is a banquet too. 

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