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Monday, January 09, 2012

Operating Instructions A Little Too Honest, But Still Enlightening

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"I just can't get over how much babies cry. I really had no idea what I was getting into. To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like getting a cat" (66).

When writer Anne Lamott finds herself alone and pregnant at age 35, she's terrified. The baby's father wants nothing to do with the unborn child, but Lamott discovers that she does. Very much so. Despite being scared, despite being completely clueless about kid-rearing, despite the fact that she's "too self-centered, cynical, eccentric, and edgy to raise a baby" (4), she decides to do it anyway.

Operating Instructions is Lamott's journal of that first year with her son, Sam. With unfailing honesty, self-deprecating humor, and a voice that feels like your best friend's, she writes about the ups and downs of motherhood. Lamott says nothing I've not heard before, but she says it in a way that seems fresh. Maybe it's her candid, tell-it-like-it-is attitude or possibly it's the simple fact that she's a single mother relying on a motley crew of friends, a slightly dysfunctional family and a flailing, ragged kind of faith to get her through - whatever it is, her story strikes a chord. It's engaging, entertaining and enlightening. Lamott's a little too honest at times, saying things all moms have probably thought at one time or another, but wouldn't dream of uttering out loud ("I was very rough changing him at 4:00 when he wouldn't stop crying. I totally understand child abuse now. I really do" [64]). Still, she comes off as an Everywoman, albeit a neurotic one.

While Lamott focuses on her experience with motherhood, that's not all she discusses in this very forthright memoir. She talks about her years as an alcoholic and drug addict; she talks about the fight to stay clean and sober; she talks about loneliness, depression and grief; she talks about the faith she found in a small, quirky black church in San Francisco; she talks about illness; she talks about healing; she talks about life. Through it all, she comes back to one simple fact: "He [Sam] is all I have ever wanted, and my heart is so huge with love that I feel like it is about to go off. At the same time I feel that he has completely ruined my life, because I just didn't used to care all that much" (60-61).

Like I said before, Lamott gets a little too frank at times (I really didn't need to know every time she felt like having sex), but that's also part of her charm. She says things others would never dare to, which makes reading her book an eye-opening, intimate experience. And while I appreciate that about her, I think her constant neediness and ever-present anxiety would drive me crazy in real life. It certainly does in Operating Instructions. Still, I found Lamott to be a funny, sympathetic narrator with an engrossing tale to tell. I wasn't sure I would, but I enjoyed this little sojourn into her sleep-deprived, colic-crazy, baby-dazed head. It made me feel much more normal. And that's always a plus.

(Readalikes: Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son's First Son by Anne Lamott)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language and fairly graphic sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I bought Operating Instructions from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.

1 comment:

  1. I have 3 kids and none of them were collicky, but I can't imagine surviving that first year alone.


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