Sam is only 19 when he and his girlfriend Amy blindside their families with the news that Amy is pregnant. Lamott chronicles her rather unenthusiastic reaction to this news honestly and goes on to describe the turmoil and struggles these two young people face as they negotiate a relationship with frequent rocky patches and the added responsibility of an infant. Told both through Lamott's reminiscences and through e-mails between she and Sam and other friends, this almost has a very familiar feel to it. As Sam grows into fatherhood, maturing faster than he might have without the advent of his son, Lamott observes his struggles, with school and responsibility and relationship. She is quite candid about her own insecurities and imperfections as a grandmother, desperately afraid that Amy will move back to the Midwest or the East Coast with baby Jax, taking him out of Lamott's daily orbit. Her friends' wise counsel about her fears and her doubts calm her and make her more able to avoid confronting Amy out of fear but these repeated anxieties do begin to sound overly self-centered and occur altogether too frequently.
Unlike in Operating Instructions though, Lamott seems to be choosing many of her words very carefully. Operating Instructions was unvarnished truth; Some Assembly Required, when focused anywhere but on herself, is cautious and mindful of the potential to hurt others, which unfortunately weakens the memoir, leaving the reader to wonder if Lamott's been as candid as she would if she wasn't worried about Sam and Amy's reaction to her take on their relationship and the experiences of Jax's first year. Lamott also suffers a bit from that grandmotherly malady, unreserved, untempered, gushing love for her grandchild. Not that she didn't love Sam from the deepest corners of her heart, but she was able to more clearly chronicle the struggles of his babyhood and the emotional trials that motherhood brought. Here it feels more as if Jax's babyhood is nothing but wonderful aside from her worries about Sam and Amy's relationship wobbles and her own imagined anxieties about Amy's state of mind. I do like Lamott's non-fiction and I think this was a good enough book but she's been great so this was a bit of a let-down.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.