Tag Archives: American literature

Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott is one of our favorite authors and so we’re putting up this very nice photograph from the San Francisco Chronicle.   Note that we have posted two reviews on this site of her latest novel Imperfect Birds.   In order to find these reviews, just enter the terms Anne Lamott in the Search It! box (on the right) and hit enter.   The first review, Birds, was posted on February 14, 2010; the second, Imperfect Birds, on April 12, 2010.

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Imperfect Birds

“Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird.”   Rumi

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott is a fabulous book, one of those rare books that has you muttering “wow” to yourself once you finish it.   As soon as I read the novel’s first line, “There are so many evils that pull on our children,” I knew that I was in for a good read.   In Imperfect Birds, Lamott is telling the story of what can happen to a teenage daughter.   Having my own teenage (step) daughter, I’m constantly worried about her well-being, wondering what out there in her world is tempting her, despite the fact that she’s a good normal girl, and a scholar-athlete with a fantastic GPA.

Elizabeth Ferguson is raising her seventeen-year-old daughter Rose in a supposedly safe community in northern California, along with her second husband James.   Elizabeth is a worrier, and not without reason.   Kids die in her town from drinking and using drugs.   Her daughter has admitted to having sex, and to smoking pot, trying cocaine and drinking.   Most of this Elizabeth secretly reads in Rosie’s journals.   Elizabeth is a recovering alcoholic, suffers from mental illness, and lost her first husband many years before.

Elizabeth works and her husband James writes at home, and they’re loving parents who have very frank and honest conversations with Rosie.   Despite this, Rosie is hiding a secret.   During Rosie’s senior year she goes into a gradual slide – lying, having unprotected sex, and abusing drugs.   Yet she doesn’t think she has a problem.

Elizabeth and James struggle with Rosie as she becomes less trust-worthy and open.   Rosie is every typical teenager; she doesn’t want to hear her parents’ warnings.   She is in fact a wonderful girl – funny, bright and loving.   Yet Rosie has become a master manipulator.   While reading this novel you can actually feel the tension between Rosie and her parents.   Ms. Lamott does an excellent job reminding the reader of how hard the process of raising a daughter can be.

Imperfect Birds is a sequel to two of Anne Lamott’s prior novels, Rosie (1997) and Crooked Little Heart (1998).   Lamott does an excellent job of tapping into the teen drug culture that scares parents.   Rosie, Elizabeth and James are a family in crisis, like many other American families today.

You don’t need to be a parent or step-parent to read this book, because it appeals on so many levels.   It is a wonderful, wonderful book…   Read it, if only to feel that “ah, you too” moment.

This review was written by Ghetto Girl and used with her kind permission.   You can read more of her reviews at: http://thegirlfromtheghetto.wordpress.com/ .

 

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American Tune

Independence Day

Independence Day: A Novel by Richard Ford (Vintage, $16.00, 464 pages)

“A sad fact, of course, about adult life is that you see the very things you’ll never adapt to on the horizon.”

“I’m the man who counsels abandonment of those precious things you remember but can no longer make hopeful use of.”

The genre of the suburban angst novel was likely created by John Updike’s 1960 novel Rabbit Run.   That was the story of Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, a superb athlete and high school basketball star who finds that his life has peaked at the age of 26.   Angstrom’s solution was basically to run away from the obligations of adulthood and family.

Updike has certainly received a great deal of praise as one of the best American writers; although to me each of the three books in the Rabbit trilogy came off as flat and tired.   Updike’s genius may lie in the fact that this was precisely what he intended.

Richard Ford

Move ahead to the year 1995 and second-time author Richard Ford (The Sportswriter) moves the category along by leaps and bounds with the release of Independence Day.   Come the new year, this novel will be 20 years old but it reads as if it was written just last month.   Frank Bascombe, a divorced former newspaper sportswriter, is living in his ex-wife’s house attempting to get by as a realtor.   This at a time when there’s a significant (early 90’s) recession, rapidly falling real estate values and high unemployment levels.   Employment down, building down, rents low, cost to buy high:   “… dug in for the long night that becomes winter.”   Sound familiar?

Bascombe has decided that the best times in his life have – like his former spouse – left him behind.   “Why should you only get what you want?   Life’s never like that.”   So Bascombe simply resolves to get through, to keep living, during his self-titled Existence Period.

At first the reader – not knowing any better – accepts Frank Bascombe as a depressed 53-year-old man who thinks things like, “When you’re young, your opponent is the future. When you’re not young, your opponent’s the past and everything done in it…”.   But eventually we realize that Frank’s actually an optimist – “It’s my experience that when you don’t think you’re making progress that you’re probably making plenty.”

As we read this 451-page novel, we see that Bascombe is making progress in pushing the re-start button on his life.   He’s not a bad person, really, it’s just that he has his own way of looking at things – one of the small points on which his ex-wife and his troublesome girlfriend can agree on.   Like a writer, he looks at things and sees something different from real actual life.   “You might never have been quite as happy as you like to believe you were.”

Bascombe is often let down, unfortunately, by the other people in his life, like one of his post-divorce female partners:   “… she had very little facility for actually thinking about me and never in the time we knew each other asked me five questions about my children or my life before I met her.”   Yet we somehow sense that Frank will be blessed with the victory of what Bob Dylan called “simple survival.”

How good, exactly, is this piece of American literature?   In 1995, The New York Times included it in the year-end list of best books.   As 1996 began, Ford was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for Independence Day.   This Frank Bascombe novel (like John Updike’s Rabbit books) was part of a trilogy, but don’t worry about what came before or after.

Independence Day was Ford’s singular masterpiece, his van Gogh, his Sunflowers painting.   Or The Starry Night.

This is essential reading.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

Independence Day 3

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