Jenny Shank's Reviews > Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith

Grace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott
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Nov 28, 2010

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Keeping the faith
With humor, frustration Anne Lamott continues her search for spirituality
Jenny Shank, Special to the News
Published March 23, 2007 at midnight

In her new essay collection, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott extends the chronicle of her spiritual journey that she began with Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and continued with Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Despite her recent emergence as a font of spiritual wisdom, she's still the same old Anne Lamott, so her pieties are mercifully leavened with humor and endearing crabbiness.

In one essay, for example, Lamott writes about how she fell from a ski lift and was helped by a member of the ski patrol, who asked "How you doing?" Lamott writes, "At first the enthusiasm in her voice worried me, because she sounded as if we might now move on to calisthenics."

After earning a devoted following through several novels and nonfiction books about writing and childrearing, recently Lamott has focused on how her faith helps her through lifes' little bumps -like that fall from the ski lift-as well as the big blows, like the terminal diagnosis of a friend.

There is some repetitiveness in subject matter to Lamott's third book on spirituality - once again, for example, she references her struggles with alcoholism and the memory of her overbearing mother. But this repetitiveness suits Lamott's subject, because as many chroniclers of faith have noted, experiencing a jolt of spiritual insight when something exceptional happens is relatively easy. The hard part is making the insight last through the crud of every day, as the title of one of Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield's books illustrates: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

Lamott's laundry, in this installment, includes regretting sending an unkind e-mail, trying to teach Sunday school to a classroom of wriggly little kids, getting into an extended battle with a carpet salesman who will not return her money when the rug she buys for the Sunday school turns out to have a mold spot, assisting in a special-ed dance class, and embarking on an epic eating binge.

In several of these daily trials, Lamott screws up for awhile, succumbing to jealousy, anger, pettiness, or any of the other what-would-Jesus-not-do emotions, then reflects and prays about her behavior and works toward recompense: She buys the carpet man a bouquet of flowers, and apologizes about the e-mail. "Usually with life, you start wherever you are, and you flail around for a while," she writes. "Now you just nose around on the Internet."

Grace (Eventually) also includes some topics more grave than laundry: a shocking, powerful essay about how she assisted a terminally ill friend with his suicide, and an account of how she helped an elderly friend decide whether or not it was time to give up her home.

This book is less political than Plan B. While the president was a major figure in that book, here Lamott writes, "I don't hate anyone right now, not even George W. Bush." One of the highlights of the book is Lamott's essay about her teenage son Sam, whose infancy she wrote about in Operating Instructions.

It's almost a shame that Lamott is so respectful of her son's privacy-she begins the essay "Samwheel," with the statement, "There are only six stories about Sam at seventeen that he will allow me to tell, and this is my favorite." When Sam's reckless driving destroys a tire, she punishes him by taking away his driving privileges and sentencing him to wash both of their muddy cars while she's out walking the dog.

"When I got back, the cars were still gauzy with dirt," she writes. Sam insolently insists that he did wash them but says, "I just did a lousy job." For the first time, Lamott slaps his face, then immediately regrets it. "Recently," she writes, "I have begun to feel that the boy I loved is gone, and in his place is this male person who pushes my buttons with his moodiness, scorn, and flamboyant laziness."

She confides in her priest friend, Father Tom, about her difficulties with Sam, and he says, "You're right on schedule." Lamott orders Sam to wash the cars properly, and prays for the ability to forgive herself and Sam. "I kept my expectations low," she writes, "which is one of the secrets of life."

Grace doesn't feel like Lamott's last word on faith. In detailing her struggles as a flawed human to embody her Christian faith, Lamott may have found a subject that can inexhaustibly fuel her writing for years to come, as it's a perfect conduit for her observational humor. Her fans will forgive her, as they would a kooky, aging friend, if she tells the same stories over again.

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts On Faith

• By Anne Lamott. Riverhead, 272 pages, $24.95.

• Grade: B

The terrible teens

It's not just Lamott's son Sam who's gotten tough in adolescence. In this amusing passage, she comments on her friends' teenage children, as well: "Their kids are mouthy now, and worse: they couldn't care less about school, and some are barely passing. They drive like movie stars from the fifties, like Marlon Brando or Troy Donahue. You can see in their driving that everything in them is raw. No wonder teenagers make such good terrorists."

More Lamott:

While Lamott has written six novels, it's her nonfiction work that is most often revered. For those looking for more from the author, we recommend Operating Instructions, about her life as a single mother during her son's first year, and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, a witty and honest look at the challenges of a writing life.
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