Friday, May 4, 2012

Review: Some Assembly Required by Anne Lamott

The very first Anne Lamott book I ever read was Operating Instructions, her wonderful, honest retelling of her first year with son Sam. My own son was either in his first or second year when I read it (it had been out for a while by then) and it was so incredibly reassuring to see that I wasn't the only mom out there who was gobsmacked by both the incredible miracle of that baby and the bone weary frustration that comes as a package deal with an infant. She never sugar-coated the lows even in the midst of celebrating the highs. This second memoir of babyhood is not about Sam, long since a young man, but about his son Jax. It is every bit as much a love letter as the first book was but from an entirely new perspective, that of a doting grandmother.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I read Operating Instruction last year and looooved it, so I was quite intrigued when I saw this one, but just how many books about babies can a woman who doesn't want babies read? I appreciate very much that now I feel no need to seek this one out.


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