Thursday, March 29, 2012

Real People, Real Problems

Anne Lamott is someone who's writing I've enjoyed for a long time.  I've read her memoirs about faith; through a lot of challenges in life she's come to a very passionate, liberal, personal form of Christianity.  She writes about her relationship with religion--the community of her church, her personal reliance on God--in a very immediate, somewhat desperate way.  I have a thing for spiritual memoirs, and hers are generally very good.

So I've read a good deal of her nonfiction, but I'd never read one of her novels before.  Then Linden read Rosie, and she really liked it, so I picked it up.  And today I finished it, and I don't quite know what to say. 

Most of my emotional reaction to the book was based on my kind of hating the main character, Elizabeth, and most of my hatred of her was based on her flaws hitting so close to home.  I can't be sure whether this is one of those times when everyone who reads it would feel the same way, or if that sort of aimless self-importance, uncomfortable inertia and lack of self-control are as on the nose as I feel like they are when I read about her.  At least I'm not an alcoholic.

Rosie is Elizabeth's daughter, and I would probably not have named the book after her.  I suppose it makes sense, because, although the point of view is somewhat split between the two characters, really the point is that Rosie is the only thing that Elizabeth is good at and able to focus on.  Unless you count drinking--she's really good at drinking.  I guess she's good at loving the people she loves, which is something that is kind of grown through Rosie, though I'm not completely sure whether it's something in Elizabeth that is able to flourish because of her daughter, or just something that we as readers are able to see clearly through the lens of their relationship.

Anyway, this is one of those books where everyone is kind of annoying.  It would make a movie where all the rooms were a little too small and cluttered, and everyone was always wearing uncomfortable looking clothes--think The Squid and the Whale or Wonderboys.  All of the characters are solidly, richly flawed, which makes them powerfully realistic, I think, but really just feels kind of sad.  Rae is needy and kind of miserable; Rosie is eight, so of course she's selfish and mean sometimes.  James is kind of a cad.  Elizabeth is a hot mess.  There's a child molester, his silent wife, his poor kid; some loser boyfriends, some cheerful dolts.  No one in this book really has their acts together, and when I read a book like that, I start to feel a little hopeless.  Because while it's true that no one in real life has their act together, a lot of us do a good enough job of faking it that we even fool ourselves most of the time.  The narrator of this book--the reader--is not fooled for a minute.  And that just kind of makes me sad.

The other thing is that, knowing as much as I do about Lamott's life, I suspect that she's Rosie and Elizabeth is her mom, and that makes me a little wistful.  If it's true, it's a very respectful, loving lens through which to view life with a raging alcoholic who was really horribly self-centered.  But it's also a little dreamy, like, wouldn't it be great it the only problem was the booze and the aimlessness?  And isn't Rosie precocious?

I don't know, maybe I'm just cranky.  Elizabeth spends a lot of time cranky at books for either being too dumb or being so smart as to show her up.  Talking about this book just gets me all in a jumble.  But it was interesting, I'll give you that, and sad, and kind of gritty, in a comfortable suburban widow kind of way. 

And now I've read an Anne Lamott novel, so that's out of the way.

1 comment:

Linden said...

i'm guessing that you're not planning to read the other two books, but they are MUCH more about Rosie and her problems and her internal world. you might like them better?