Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Lamott's Griping Makes Grandparenting Memoir More Annoying Than Affecting

(Image from Barnes & Noble)


(Note: While it is certainly not necessary to read Operating Instructions before its sequel, Some Assembly Required, I recommend doing so in order to get a more panoramic view of the relationship between Anne Lamott and her son.)

When Anne Lamott's son (the one whose first year she chronicled in Operating Instructions) becomes a father at nineteen, she deals with it the same way she did her own surprise pregnancy twenty years ago - she journals. Putting everything down on paper helps Lamott cope with all the anxiety, frustration and stress she feels while watching her only child, Sam, learn how to be a father. At the same time, it gives her a vehicle for expressing the intense love she has for her grandson, Jax ("This is the one fly in the grandma ointment—the total love addiction—the highest highs, and then withdrawal, craving, scheming to get another fix" (40-41). As with Operating Instructions, Lamott's unfailing honesty makes her story intimate, engrossing and illuminating.

I have to say, though, that while I found Lamott's neurotic nature more or less endearing in Operating Instructions, it annoyed me to no end in Some Assembly Required. Perhaps it's because as Jax's grandmother—not mother—she's more removed from the situation, making her insanity less justified (in my humble opinion). Naturally, Lamott's concerned for her only grandchild, especially due to the tumultuous relationship between his parents, but after a while, I found myself siding more with Jax's mother than grandmother. I kept wanting to yell at her (as Sam's girlfriend, Amy, no doubt did), "Just mind your own blankety-blank-blank business, Lamott." Still, the author's commentary brings up some good questions about grandparenting: How involved should parents be in the lives of their adult kids and their children? Should they have any say in how their grandchildren are being raised, especially if the kids are growing up in a stable environment, if, perhaps, not a perfect one? And are adult children required to listen to their parents' advice, opinions and criticism when it comes to child-rearing? I think the conclusion Lamott finally comes to—that she has no control over the situation whatsoever—is probably most apt.

So, what's my final word on Some Assembly Required (which comes out in March 2012, by the way)? While the book is both funny and thought-provoking, it's not nearly as impactful as Operating Instructions, probably because it lacks the immediacy of Lamott's first parenting memoir. Some Assembly Required definitely asks important questions about grandparenting, but Lamott's griping—constant and irritating—overshadowed everything else. Maybe it's only because I haven't reached that stage of life yet and cannot possibly understand the worries of a grandmother, but the only thing this book makes me want to do is give Grandma Lamott a good shake and tell her to chill out a little.

(Readalikes: Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language

To the FTC, with love: I received an ARC of Some Assembly Required through Elle magazine's Reader's Jury program. All quotes were taken from said ARC.

3 comments:

  1. I find myself in turmoil reading your review. I'm sure it's not easy being a grandmother, but it's also not easy being a mother with a disapproving mother/mother-in-law.

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  2. Rita - My thoughts exactly!

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  3. A friend recommended Operating Instructions, but I found Lamott's non-stop whining and self-pity intensely annoying, especially since she was blessed with a herd of minions who bought her groceries, did her laundry, and tended her baby months after she recovered from giving birth. She's supremely comfortable with allowing people to do things for her that she's entirely capable of doing for herself. I don't find neurotic navel-gazing princesses entertaining, so I won't be reading any more of her work.

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