Saturday, April 14, 2012
Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son
New York, Riverhead Books, 2012
271 pages Spiritual Memoir
It is a bit hard to know what Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott is really about—baby Jax Lamott, a first grandchild, or about grandma Anne. Methinks, it is mostly about grandma. But that’s OK because in her reveries about life, her son, his girlfriend, and her beloved grandson, Jax, we get more than a glimpse into the life of an extremely creative thinker and writer. We see a woman who views life through the lens of her faith. It is totally refreshing.
Anne Lamott was a single mother in her 30s when she wrote Operating Instructions, a journal of her son Sam’s first year. Some Assembly Required is a similar journal of the first year of Grandson Jax. Sam became a father just before his 20th birthday. He is an art student; Amy, his girlfriend, a hairdresser. Anne takes over some of the support for the young family, both monetarily and emotionally. She struggles between the need to control the situation and to let things evolve. “Inwardly I believe that by this grippage, this not letting go, I am holding people safe, although a critic might point out that I am holding them in a death grip.” She also notices that “no one seems to want my always excellent advice.”
Sam has a wonderful albeit unique relationship with his mother, as do most kids raised by a single parent. He shares her independent religious faith but needs her emotional and financial resources as he becomes a man and a parent all at the same time. He shares his insights about parenthood through emails to his mother and interviews with her. Anne’s relationship with Amy, Jax’s mother, is more problematic. When they have a good day together, Lamott muses that their relationship is “like the story of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, without the unimpeachable characters.”
I had three insights about children becoming adults when Sam tells his mother that she needed to change her style of blue jeans. It reminded me that I have learned that you know that your child is an adult when: 1) they tell you they are adults; 2) when you see them behaving as adults; and 3) when they start giving you advice. Lamott saw her son becoming an adult when he took responsibility for this tiny little being who was his son.
Lamott’s spiritual insights are superb. I could quote whole pages of her gems of wisdom. I liked this one: “I would say that my deepest spiritual understanding is that God. . .sees my smallest detail, even my flicker, prickly, damaged, jealous, vain self. . .and God still understands exactly what that feels like. Because God has had the experience of being people, through Jesus.”
The reviewer in the Oregonian has this to say about Lamott’s faith: “A kind of leftist radical born-again Christian, Lamott shares her faith in such a matter-of-fact way that really, I want to kiss her for it.” A more evangelical reviewer says that Christian readers would find “Lamott’s spiritual views problematic. It is her journey and therefore her business, but her universalist tendencies and rapturous accounts of the joys of meditation at a local ashram will raise red flags for many.” Wait! That’s precisely why I like her writing. She is supremely honest about her faith, her confusion, and her spiritual journey. It is very real—not problematic.
This is a book that new grandparents are embracing. I’m not a new grandparent (I have seven plus) but as I read Some Assembly Required, I was remembering my first grandchild, Maxwell, who looked so much like his father that as I gazed at him, I quite forgot that I was the grandmother, and I would catch myself saying, “Maxwell, come to Mama!”
I had read and blogged about Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith during the first months of my blog. I have to say that I found it more meaningful but no less funny. If you have not read Anne Lamott, her work is worth diving into. Your soul will be better for it—as will your belly laugh!
An interview with Sam on a New York Times parenting blog: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/22/motherlode-book-club-video-anne-and-sam-lamott-on-his-unexpected-fatherhood/
The review in the Oregonian: http://www.oregonlive.com/books/index.ssf/2012/03/some_assembly_required_review.html