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March 6, 2010

Some thoughts on Imperfect Birds, a novel by Anne Lamott

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

I first discovered Anne Lamott on Salon.com. Her writing was always honest, poetic and inspiring. Blue Shoe is one of my favourite books. And, whenever I need to find my place in the world, I turn to my dog-eared copy of Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.

I thought I’d feel the same way about Anne Lamott’s latest efforts: Imperfect Birds. Sadly, I didn’t. I didn’t find the relationship between Elizabeth and Rosie credible. Anne tells us in the very first chapter that Elizabeth is aware of the many evils in the world. Despite all the warning signs, she chooses to ignore them. And Rosie lies with impunity. I found myself becoming impatient with the tone and the pace of the novel.

(A big aside: Anne Lamott is a strong writer with a poet’s heart. There are some lovely, sparking sentences in the book, but they are few and far between - until we get to the last section of the novel.)

It takes two-thirds of the novel for the story to move its climax. By the time Rosie is sent into the wilderness, there are only about 75 pages left. And this is where the story gets interesting. This, I believe, is the heart of the story.

Because Anne tells the story of Elizabeth and Rosie from different vantage points, it’s difficult to get engaged. I wanted just one strong voice. One strong narrative that took me from beginning to end.

Anne has done a great deal of research on narcotics, teenage experimentation and rehab facilities. And at times I felt the story was overwhelmed by the weight of all these details.

Overall, I read this book out of loyalty. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to give my whole-hearted endorsement.

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