Tag Archives: grandmother and grandchild

Child Is Father to the Man

Some Assembly Required (nook book)

Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Baby by Anne Lamott and Sam Lamott (Riverhead Books, $26.95, 288 pages)

I’m a huge fan of Anne Lamott. Having said that, it’s nevertheless hard to fathom who the audience is supposed to be for her most recent memoir, Some Assembly Required. This is the follow-up to Operating Instructions, in which Lamott wrote about the sometimes tense, oftentimes close relationship with her aspiring artist son, Sam. In Assembly, she writes about her first year as a grandmother (“Nana”) to baby Jax, balancing her love for a new male child with the demands of her son’s new life and the often conflicting desires of her daughter-in-law – a young woman who has very strong, opinionated ideas about the best way to raise a child.

The first Scripture reading today was Luke 15, the Prodigal Son. Of course. It’s the only real story – coming back to God, who welcomes us with heartbroken joy, no matter what, every time. I do not get this.

Ask and allow: ask God and allow Grace in.

What makes this memoir odd and often troublesome is that Lamott writes about her strong Christian beliefs (and about such things as the Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit) but frequently does so in language that would cause devoted church goers to blanch. For example, there’s the point at which she thinks about taking her son aside to say “something spiritual like ‘Shape the f–k up!'”. The latter type of language is going to draw the interest of some young, alienated college students – possibly a new audience for the writer, but they may be alienated by the countless references to God in the traditional religious sense.

And then things get even worse, as the memoir detours in another direction. Notwithstanding her Christianity, Lamott writes about traveling to India in a seemingly sideways search to find the meaning of life:

We were on the Ganges at five in the morning, in a riverboat in the fog. One image that had called me to India for years, besides the Taj Mahal, was a dawn visit to the Ganges on a riverboat, for the sunrise.

How does all of this come together in a manner that makes some sense? Well, it doesn’t. Reading Assembly is like reading the diary or journal notes of someone whose life heads in all directions at once, without meaning or apparent purpose. If Anne Lamott does not seem to know how to tie the loose ends of her life together, then – trust me – the reader is certainly unable to do so.

Some Assembly Required reads like an overly-rough draft of a memoir that screamed out for a very talented editor – a figure that apparently failed to appear.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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The Secret Lives of Dresses

The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean (5 Spot; $13.99; 304 pages)

Don’t be fooled by the naive feeling that permeates this novel at the outset.   The main character is twenty-year-old Dora Winston and her perspective on life shapes the story.   Dora, an orphan, was raised by her beloved paternal grandmother, Mimi Winston, who is a widow.   Their relationship affects the way Dora sees the world and is the basis for her intensely personal sense of values.   Dora’s parents died in an automobile crash when she was just a baby.   So Mimi is her whole family.

The reader is introduced to Dora as she is rushing to the hospital where Mimi is being treated for a stroke.   The stroke renders Mimi helpless and her doctors are on alert for any signs of consciousness.   The circumstances of Mimi’s stroke could be seen as devastating and yet, author McKean somehow manages to morph the story into a classic example of catastrophe = opportunity.

Dora steps up and chooses to keep her grandmother’s vintage women’s clothing store open for business, taking time away in the evenings to visit the hospital.   The clothing is not used in the sense of being secondhand; rather, each dress has a unique provenance.   Although the novel is not a mystery, there is a mysterious quality to McKean’s portrayal of the characters.   This reviewer wanted to know more about them and their lives.   There is a wide range for these characters which sets up good contrasts among contemporaries such as Dora and her cousin Tyffannee or Mimi and Gabby, her housemate.

Through trial and error Dora learns to maintain an open mind permitting her to see the world around her in an unfiltered manner.   She compares her inner hopes and dreams, or the lack thereof, with what’s actually possible.   Due to the wide variety of ages portrayed, McKean keeps her story from being typecast as a young adult book.   The maturity exhibited by Dora is a refreshing change from the self-centered way many twenty-somethings appear to behave on TV and in the movies.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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