You know who Anne Lamott is, she’s that great great aunt who had a tiny but bright blip in your life and she opened some windows, taught you a few things, and made you look at dreadlocks differently. But here it is, almost Christmas, and you know it’s time to make that annual drive to her house, a museum of eccentricities with two too-many animals and ugh, the dread. Two hours in the car and this intrusion in a day — where really you didn’t have any other plans — is heavy. Before you even twist the dial to public radio, stick the straw in the Big Gulp, you pretty much hate Great Great Aunt Anne Lamott and you’re already doing the math on how long you have to stay to be polite without being there so long that you feel like emptying her medicine cabinet into your throat.
Then you get there and. . . it’s not bad at all. In fact, it’s pleasant and a little funny. It’s warm and fuzzy and she hasn’t changed a bit. Still neurotic, still seeking solace in a village of friends she keeps on speed dial, still deferring to a higher power and still with the dreadlocks. So you stick around longer than you thought you would and give her a big hug when you leave and promise to call or at least email and think nice thoughts about her in the car the whole way home. And then next Christmas, another blood boiling stew over this looming visit, this intrusion on your life. You tell yourself that after this visit you certainly deserve ice cream with the works, that’s the carrot you’re dangling over the trip and. . . that’s who Anne Lamott is.
Except instead of the long drive and the visit, it’s a new book.
About 20 years after pre-mommy blogging the first year of her son’s life, Anne Lamott returns with a journal of the first year in the life of her son Sam’s son in Some Assembly Required. Yes, this happened well before one would expect the tot who has repeatedly cropped up in her non-fiction to procreate — he’s 18 when he and his on-off girlfriend Amy get pregnant. When Lamott floats the idea of chronicling the first year, ala her book Operating Instructions he responds in a way that reveals him to be a thoughtful brand of teen:
“I shouted ‘Yeah! Of course. . .’” he writes in the preface. “‘Why didn’t I think of that myself?’ To this day, that book is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.”
Longtime followers of Lamott will not be surprised by how this year unfolds: A lava of love and affection, serious freak outs that young Jax will die or that his mother Amy will decide to move from San Francisco and closer to family and friends in Chicago, freak out phone fests with her friends about how to handle communication hiccups and the chunks she takes out of her tongue as she reminds herself to back off, this is their life, she can’t control this dewy new family.
The story is divided like a journal and also includes a trip to India, a trip to Europe, a wedding and a funeral, as well as mini interviews with Sam about Jax’s maturation as well as his own feelings on watching this mini ball of hilarity, this laid back baby, this young observer figure out how things work. It is also about as honest as Lamott could possibly be and she never soft-shoes her way around a beef with Amy or her suspicions that Sam needs to check himself or that she, herself, is on the cusp of overstepping or erupting in jealousy.
I have been a fan of Lamott for more than 15 years, still I had a hard time actually picking this one up, opening it and pushing my eyeballs to the page. I just wasn’t in the mood for what I knew this book would be. You can, after all, like Anne Lamott — or anyone really — and still duck behind the organic junk food aisle when you see her coming. Still, once I picked it up I jammed through it pretty quickly and fell back into her groove.
This book isn’t going to set any land speed records. It’s not new or different. The writing is standard Lamott fare, which is always pleasant and conversational and she’s got a unique perspective. Basically, Lamott is and always has been a pre-Blogger blogger, chronicling her life in book form. (Which, I guess makes Sam Lamott the OG Leta Armstrong). She’s charming and a little crazy and regularly learning a valuable new life lesson or relearning an old one. And Sam has become this arty, sensitive, spiritual, open-minded, mature kid who might tell his mother that her jeans have passed their expiration date, but will also list for her the qualities she has bestowed on to him that he is especially grateful for. For old fans of the family, you’ll like what they’ve been up to, but you won’t be surprised.