Monday, May 27, 2013

'Some Assembly Required' by Anne Lamott

I'm in between stories, in a way. I've got 'The Importance of Being Seven' by Alexander McCall Smith on CD, but one of the disks is stuck in my old car and won't pop out. There's probably a dog hair mucking up the mechanism. McCall's story, a sweet one, one with many philosophical questions that I love finding in a book, questions that redeem the rambling nature of the story, is just hanging there, part way through disk 9. It would have been ironic if it had been disk 7, wouldn't it? The Importance of Being Seven. Life isn't telling the story the way I want it to yet again. Okay, so I could say, "Number 9? Number 9? Number 9?" and some of you would know which song I mean and in a drunken, remember those college weekends way, it would be ironic. Except that McCall's isn't that kind of book. Or it could be stuck on disk 42, and that would be the answer. It's not that kind of book either. The story is hanging there, unfinished and unattainable.

In addition to having my car holding one story ransom, I just finished reading another, 'Some Assembly Required' by Anne Lamott. I usually love everything that Anne Lamott writes, but this book seems different. In the past, I have loved and admired Lamott's honesty. And she was funny. When seeing her live at a reading, I felt she was endowed with the gifts of a stand up comic, though I'll admit that when she signed the books, she seemed tired and disconnected. A book tour could do that to a person, I figured.

Maybe I was too tired as I read this book. Maybe it was too late at night and my nighttime blur changed my viewpoint. The book seemed too exposed somehow, too honest. I wanted her to be together now that she'd survived raising a son, getting straight, and finding her spirituality. I didn't like seeing that raw nerve she's so good at getting me to feel. I felt she should hide that part, except that it was the reason for the entire book, right?

So, here's a question for you: How much information is too much for memoir? In a novel, it's okay to go all bloody and graphic on a reader. Just look at all the crime stuff that flies off the shelf. But when it's a memoir, does that change things? Bill Bryson's book, 'The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid' seems authentic enough when you read it. So does Frank McCourt's 'Angela's Ashes.' Yet, Bryson never makes me feel as though I'm supposed to be sorry for him. The agony with which I read 'Angela's Ashes' seemed like a flayed bony finger pointing at the people who caused this misery for these poor children. I wanted one redeeming element to be shown at the end. Anything at all. And sometimes, as in 'Some Assembly Required,' I feel like I've just seen a streaker who stopped to read the bus stop schedule in the middle of his run. Oh, Lamott is not graphic visually, but the anxiety she portrays is so raw. It makes me want to ask, "Honey, are you sure you want to publish this?"

Too late now.

And yet, she tells a poignant story, that struggle of a parent to let go and become a grandmother, one who lets the kids, who are now parents, manage on their own.

See, memoir also harbors another fault. Sometimes the author needs to stop talking and publish. What if we readers find that she, the author and main character, isn't as changed as we'd have liked her to be at the end of the book, especially when the sequel has begun where she left off as the new and improved self that she was in the previous book. Life isn't convenient to the story. Real people may not be able to cooperate that way.

Maybe that's her point.


Oh, I get it now.

Thank you for listening, jb

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