Ciara's Reviews > Imperfect Birds

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott
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's review
Aug 21, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: especially-great-novels, read-in-2010
Read in August, 2010

apparently this book is a follow-up on the characters from a previous book. but this is the first anne lamott novel i have ever read, so i don't know what the deal was with those other characters or book. i do feel like i missed out on some important back story that could have helped contextualize the plot of this book, but...i enjoyed it anyway. even though "enjoy" is a weird word to use for a book that contains such an awful lying teenager & so many long drawn-out conversations about letting jesus take the wheel, so to speak.

rosie is the teenager in question, 17 years old & starting her senior year of high school. with her best friends, alice & jody, she has started dabbling in drugs & alcohol...though "dabbling" is probably under-stating the issue. jody sank deep enough into drug use that her parents sent her away to rehab...not that she didn't just come back home & keep doing drugs that wouldn't show up on piss tests.

elizabeth is rosie's widowed mother, & james is her husband. they have been together since rosie was a child. one review i read said that it seemed like the town where the family lives is one where no one works & everyone goes to AA. which is a really astute observation. james is a writer & he gets a regular gig writing pieces for the local NPR station. elizabeth & james's best friends are lank (a high school teacher) & rae (a weaver who always seem to work in some capacity at an awful-sounding hippie non-denominational church). the book is all about elizabeth (a recovering addict) gradually becoming aware that rosie is way deeper into drugs & alcohol than she probably wants to admit even to herself, & how the family copes with this fact.

from reading a couple of anne lamott's non-fiction books, i know that anne lamott herself is a recovering addict, & that her spirituality is a big component of her recovery. i also know that she is a single parent of a 20-year-old son who recently made her a grandmother. so it's almost impossible to not read this book & suspect that every other line contains a nugget of autobiography. a review i read said that all of the characters speak in lamott's own voice...which is very, very true. there are tiny differences between the characters. james is more sarcastic than most of the others, & elizabeth is somewhat more neurotic. but for the most part, the characters do all speak with the exact same voice, & it does become tiresome. "one-note," you might say.

but i enjoyed reading the book anyway. & i enjoyed it even though i don't care for stories about drug abuse or spirituality. an enormous chunk of this book involves characters dispensing advice to other characters--advice that was almost certainly culled from lamott's own struggles with addiction. it's just...transparent. & i found it all somewhat disappointing & even a little bit grating. but i acknowledge it would have been way worse in the hands of a less accomplished stylist. it could have been better, but it gets a pass because it could have been so much worse.

another weird thing about this book is that i didn't really care for any of the characters. elizabeth's refusal to see the reality that was staring her in the face made it difficult to feel sympathy for her once the truth came out. & rosie was just an awful, delusional, self-centered, manipulative brat. in that respect, this book made excellent birth control. i don't relish the idea of parenting a teenager any time soon.

i guess i'm giving this four stars, not because i was compelled by the story (which is nearly non-existent--when elizabeth & james finally decide to pack rosie off to a wilderness camp for a forced detox, i can't overstate how anti-climactic it is) but because i enjoyed the language & some of the wit. neither of which make for much of a plot, but...what'cha gonna do?

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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Carolee Wheeler I like your review, but this book just pissed me off. It's because I've read so much Anne Lamott that I became so angry, I think. This one just seemed so heavy-handed and sanctimonious and, kind of as you put it, one note. It exasperated me. She's better than this.

Try Joe Jones or All New People, or even the earlier Rosie books (Rosie and Crooked Little Heart) sometime. I'd like to see what you think of those. Maybe I just like the writer who's still an addict (as she was during those books).

Then again, one of my favorite turns of phrase is Anne Lamott recounting how a mother at her son's school "would make Jesus Christ want to drink gin straight from the cat dish."

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