Like her nonfiction, Imperfect Birds reflects Lamott's philosophy on God and faith; it also showcases Lamott's exquisite writing, wry wit, wonderful dialogue, and believable characters. However, critics diverged on a number of points. While some praised the narrative arc, others thought that nothing much happened, "just a trudging advance across flat terrain" that marks a typical family crisis (Boston Globe). More seriously, despite familiarity with Lamott's philosophies and left-leaning politics, a few reviewers had difficulty sympathizing with bored, upper middle-class youth in the San Francisco Bay Area. While Imperfect Birds will certainly resound with parents, other readers may wish to go back two decades and start with Rosie.
It is sobering to think that Rosie Ferguson is your typical teenage girl. On one hand, she’s in the throes of her senior year in high school: concerned with body image and boyfriends, BFFs and boredom, and, of course, the daily trauma of living with parents who are so hopelessly, well, hopeless. On the other hand, she is an adept addict who’s never met a substance she wouldn’t abuse or a male she wouldn’t seduce. Juggling these two worlds demands bigger and more frequent scores, and more facile lies, while Rosie’s parents, recovering alcoholic Elizabeth and workaholic stepfather James, are reluctant to enforce even the lamest disciplinary rules for fear of losing Rosie’s love—until one night when her world comes crashing down, and Elizabeth and James have no choice but to send Rosie to a wilderness rehab program. Reprising characters from her previous novels, Rosie (1997) and Crooked Little Heart (1998), Lamott intuitively taps into the teenage drug culture to create a vivid, unsettling portrait of a family in crisis. As she eschews the cunning one-liners and wry observations that had become her signature stock-in-trade, Lamott produces her most stylistically mature and thematically circumspect novel to date. --Carol Haggas
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