I was first introduced to Anne Lamott years ago when I read her sweetly honest memoir about motherhood, Operating Instructions. This book gave me many empathetic laughs at a time when I was searching for my own maternal compass. Ms. Lamott is a very popular author here in the San Francisco Bay Area, her home, and Imperfect Birds takes place within the postcard perfect region of Marin County—a place that sometimes feels a thousand miles from San Francisco even though it is just on the other side of the Golden Gate. Mt. Tamalpais stands foggy and monolithic over the entire tale.
Ms. Lamott conducts a symphony of metaphor and simile in order to tell this heartrending story of a family torn asunder by their daughter’s addiction. Her prose is melodic and her imagery hypnotizing as she chronicles the corrosive horrors of substance abuse along with its crushing consequences for this child, her parents, and the community. This book is not an easy read. As a parent, it left me raw. I burned up so much energy judging everyone involved—a vain attempt to distance myself from a question I’m sure every reader finds themselves facing, “Could this happen to us?” I almost closed the book and put it down but I soldiered on out of respect for the author’s effort. (I have never not finished a book. It seems unnatural to me.) As uncomfortable to read as some of the scenes were, I can only imagine the difficulty Ms. Lamott faced in writing them. Truth can be so caustic.
When viewed from the outside addiction looks simple and selfish. But in reality, it’s insidious and labyrinthine–a jagged dissolution of sanity. Ms. Lamott explores the journey that is addiction through the experience of Rosie and her well-intentioned but fallible parents. We journey with them through each tragic turn of the page. And we come to realize, as she poignantly demonstrates, that love can be as addictive as drugs and do damage that is just as extreme. But it can also be redemptive and transcendent–an ironic alchemy with the power to transmute despair into hope.