Some Assembly Required

someassemblyrequiredLast year, Teresa went to a book signing with Anne and Sam Lamott (she gets to do things like that all the time, because she lives near Washington, D.C. and not in the Inland Empire — no, I am not jealous, why are you looking at me that way) and she was kind enough to get me a signed copy of Some Assembly Required. Teresa knows that Anne Lamott’s book Operating Instructions, a generous, moving, funny and wide-open account of her pregnancy and first year as a single mother, is probably my favorite of her books (closely followed by Bird by Bird). Some Assembly Required, subtitled A Journal of My Son’s First Son, is a sequel of sorts — the sort of sequel life provides, anyway, which is messy, unplanned, and full of grace when you let it be so.

Some Assembly Required tells the story of how Sam Lamott — to whom we were introduced as a newborn in Operating Instructions — becomes a father at the age of 19, and perhaps just as importantly, of how Anne Lamott becomes a delighted (if extremely anxious) grandmother. The formation of this family, with Sam’s fierce girlfriend Amy finding her role, Anne’s friends adding their strength and wisdom, family members dying, Anne’s struggles with her newly grown-up son, and church friends fighting over the baby, Jax, feels real, as real as love.

If you’ve read anything else by Anne Lamott, you know she doesn’t hide what she’s thinking. She says things the rest of us don’t dare to, on the understanding that concealing her opinions will lead only to dysfunction. She doesn’t hide her belief that she knows better than Sam and Amy what will benefit them and Jax — or her real understanding that she has to take her hands off their lives; that they are adults now, and her letting go is the only way any of them can be in relationship, as much as that hurts. She’s sarcastic about it, and she sheds tears, but she does what it takes. Her constant jokes about her “tiny opinions” and her foolishness and vanity might cover up real courage sometimes.

I didn’t love this book as much as I loved Operating Instructions, maybe because the first book caught me at just the right time of my life. But Lamott’s voice comes through loud and clear, on faith and love and muddling along when nothing seems like the right thing to do. It’s a challenge and a comfort, funny and poignant, and I enjoyed it very much.

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6 Responses to Some Assembly Required

  1. Jeanne says:

    I think that’s a particular kind of courage–the kind that comes from keeping ourselves from giving in to foolishness and vanity.

    • Jenny says:

      Well, and if you know Lamott, you know she’s very honest about when she does give in. But she talks a lot about forgiveness and grace, too, which we all need sometimes. I’m fond of her writing for that blend of honesty, humor, and mercy.

  2. Lisa says:

    I love Anne Lamott’s books, though I haven’t read Operating Instructions yet. But what really caught my eye was your mention of the Inland Empire – I haven’t heard that term since I moved away from Walla Walla all those years ago! It made my very homesick for a moment.

    • Jenny says:

      Ha ha! I live in Spokane, Lisa, and as you must know, we’re very proud of our inferiority complex. :) Really, though, I do love it here!

  3. JaneGS says:

    Bird by Bird is one of my favorite books–I think I’ve read it 3 times just for fun, but also for inspiration. I also liked Traveling Mercies and have been wanting to read both Operating Instructions and Some Assembly Required. I like her style, and honesty, as you noted. Somehow her novels don’t appeal to me–maybe because her memoirs are so powerful, I don’t want to have the element of fiction added into what I find to be so refreshingly direct.

    • Jenny says:

      I love Operating Instructions, maybe best of all her books. Her novels (in my opinion) aren’t as good, but I do think her novels about Rosie (Rosie, Crooked Little Heart, and now Imperfect Birds) are pretty good, maybe partly because they are so autobiographical.

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