Imperfect Birds Review

This is my second and a half Anne Lamott book. I did Joe Jones about a year ago and I’ve (as I mentioned previously) Bird By Bird is in my “currently reading” pile, as I forestall the inevitable end by not reading it at all. I also follow Lamott on facebook. She is either the only author I follow that way or the only author who posts anything. I almost always enjoy reading her.

Imperfect Birds ranks number three of the books I’ve completed. Lamott thematic elements: addiction, family, alternative-broken-down-real-life spirituality, etc are all there. I don’t hate the characters, which sometimes you do when they whine a lot and have a lot of problems. Instead, she makes me relate to them they way I would a friend:

Look, if you don’t have a bad attitude and lots of things wrong with you, no serious person is going to be interested. If you feel scared, outraged, confused most of the time, come on over. Have a seat.

Her character, in this story and any other, are very flawed. Elizabeth and Rosie are our narrators. Elizabeth, mother to Rosie, wife to James, alcoholic, stay at home mom, gardener, depressive, and cat lady, is still sweet, giving, and wants everyone to be happy all the time. Under normal circumstances, I’d find her needy and dependent, which she is but not enough to make me fee revolted. Instead, I relate to the parts I can, which is what Lamott seems to want. I get the feelings of wanting to believe the people you love are telling you the truth. Her jealousies make sense in the context of her fearing returning to the world after mental break downs in the past. I like that she finds mental solace in her garden, at the library, hiking with friends, cleaning up dog shit, and at concerts where:

The tone was awful, horrible, and yet breathtakingly beautiful, almost more than Elizabeth could bear, and she could not figure out why she was so vulnerable to it, as the old lady worked away, creating vibrations that took you to places you hadn’t planned or agreed to go… and old lady in the age of synthesizers could get into all the old empty rumpled places in their bodies, where perfect pitch couldn’t take them.

I like her because she still has soul. Real relationships don’t spring out of numb bodies and she and her best friends are incredible together. They remind me of the magic that a retired friend of mine teaches me, about fairies, cobbling together a joyous abundance where others see nothing, about love being at the center. I feel good in those relationships, even on the page.

Rosie, the 17-year-old daughter, is a pain in the ass. She on all types of drugs and alcohol, unsafe sex, etc. So, maybe normal for most teens, but I wasn’t that type of teen. She’s both harder and easier for me to relate to. The swell of “fuck-it” let’s destroy ourselves, the rush of getting caught up in things, the craziness without knowing how to end it or even wanting to. At the end, the prose nails the feelings:

We want to teach you how to quiet the yammer without drugs, and TV, danger, et cetera. We’re gong to teach you how you can create comfort, inside and outside, how you can get warm, how you can feed yourself. And even learn to get through silence.

Ugh. Rosie needs that, I need that, you need that, but does it ever suck getting there. And aren’t we all a pain in the ass in the meantime?

I also like the supporting cast. Elizabeth and Lank, one of her best friends, still in the kitchen after an especially shitty day and he says:

“I wish I had faith, Elizabeth, .. I wish I were a Catholic or a Jew. Or Anabaptist. Or AA, or anything. I wish I believed Jack was till alive somewhere, being silly cracking jokes. I wish I believed that he did not die in vain..” They sat in comfortable silence of old friends. “I do believe in kitchens, though… I believe they are holy ground.”

I love that. It so perfectly echos my sentiments on so many things but mostly, kitchens have always been the most important place in a home. They are holy to me. I like seeing that reflected in a story.

It was interesting. It meandered, I didn’t always see the point of why it told the story in the haphazard why it did. So many mini stories, sub plots, half climaxes, where you think suddenly it’s all going to come together and the next hundred pages will be working through to get to the end. But it doesn’t work like that. There isn’t much of a happy end, not much time to work through and see dramatic changes, it’s somewhat abrupt. Still, maybe that’s because that’s what addiction is like. A series of moment where you think the person you love who is in the claws of addiction will finally see the light and get it together and they still don’t.

As a side note, I’m a big fan of IfMermaidsWoreSuspenders and the idea that music matches books. I’d love great music recommendations for something Anne Lamott- esque.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. aubreyleaman says:

    Thanks so much for linking to my blog! This book sounds really interesting. As far as music goes, one of the first things that comes to mind is Schnittke’s Concerto gross No. 1: II. Toccata. Everything starts out nice and calm, perhaps like the character you describe who just wants everyone to be happy or at least pretend to be, but things are quickly derailed… Hope you like it if you check it out and thanks again! 🙂


    1. seedysyntax says:

      I can’t wait to listen! Thank you.


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