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A Bit Thin, Both Literally and Figuratively
on December 23, 2012
When you read thin books, you always assume that they are sharp and succinct, that they were once big books that have been cut to the bone, trimmed to the essence, and winnowed to their winning ways before submission for publication. You certainly entertain no thoughts of repetitiveness -- not in a thin book. That's forgivable with Dickens, Thackeray, and Fielding. They write huge tomes that earn the room for error. But the 100-page book? No.
That's my main beef with Anne Lamott's long essay on prayer. I read a NY Times essay of hers that I enjoyed mightily. It told of how her family was anything-but religious, how they worshiped at the altar of great writers and lived a Bohemian lifestyle. Lamott cut against the family grain. She got religion -- of a sort. But, in writing about it in this book, she travels six ways to Sunday yet keeps arriving at the same four-way intersection. That is, as I read it, I found the same repetition one gets in rote recitals of real-life prayers, and I thought to myself, "This would never see the publishing light of day if not for the name of its author."
I should have been the perfect audience for this book, which is why I bought it. I am irreligious, yet spiritual; agnostic, yet defensive about God; skeptical, yet trusting in the great unknown. Lamott is similar. She has no patience for Christians who claim to know "the way" because, of course, they don't. Hers is a most laid-back and understanding God. He (sometimes Lamott goes with "She") doesn't mind if you say, God, I'm P-O'd with you this time, as if these are the risks deities take when they get in the business of creating humans. Frankenstein's monsters, and all that.
But the three sections -- prayers for HELP, prayers of THANKS, and prayers of WOW -- were a bit circular and the writing a bit meandering. I wanted a more poetic precision from this. The smaller the genre and the smaller the manuscript length, the greater the demands. Plus Lamott has earned a reputation as a writers' writer. Did she not write BIRD BY BIRD, chapter and verse, the Gospel of Wannabe Writers everywhere?
OK. Yes, there are some neat moments, like this paragraph on the WOW of autumn:
"And autumn ain't so shabby for Wow, either. The colors are broccoli and flame and fox fur. The tang is apples, death, and wood smoke. The rot smells faintly of grapes, of fermentation, of one element being changed alchemically into another, and the air is moist and you sleep under two down comforters in a cold room. The trails are not dusty anymore, and you get to wear your favorite sweaters."
But overall, I got a "Meh" kind of feeling, like the book needed HELP, like I owed it little THANKS, and like I'd been gypped out of $17.95 (WOW!) for 102 measly pages.
Welcome to the hazards of reading new books, Pilgrim. If you love Anne Lamott's stuff unconditionally, "proceed." If not, "with caution...."