A Book As A Bridge

Posted on July 14, 2010. Filed under: addiction, Addiction Resources/Support, AlAnon, Parent of an Addict | Tags: , , , |

My dear friend, Donna, is an avid reader.  She’s my ‘go to’ person for personal reviews of the best, most recent literature.  Some of you have undoubtedly read Donna’s comments on my blog posts.  Her words are always insightful, wise, balanced, authentic, and full of compassion.  I met Donna almost 8 years ago in Al-Anon.  Both of us were there for similar reasons – we each had  a daughter with a serious eating disorder.  Donna has since become one of my most trusted, cherished friends.

Years ago, I had read and loved Anne Lamott’s book:  Bird By Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life. And so, when Lamott’s latest book, Imperfect Birds, was released and reviewed recently, my interest was piqued.

However, I just haven’t had the time to read much lately, and since Donna had just finished Imperfect Birds, I asked her to jot down a few thoughts about the book.  

First, here is the New York Times ‘official’ review of that book:

If the novel has a fault, it’s that it almost works too hard, insisting on doing a little too much of our thinking for us. Occasionally I craved a bit more space, the room to slow down and analyze things for myself, to sweat toward my own, perhaps more ambiguous, conclusions. If I didn’t know Lamott was herself a recovering alcoholic, I think I would have guessed it. Just occasionally, all the supportive hugging and talk of higher powers made me want to pull back.

But Lamott nearly always tempers her understandable evangelism with honesty and humor. Laughter redeems this book, and so does the fact that it’s ultimately not just a novel about deception and drugs but about the great big bloody battle of love and sorrow that is parenthood. When James and Elizabeth discover that their daughter has been cheating them all along, with her urine tests and her lies, James moans that “the hits just keep on coming.” I doubt there’s a parent anywhere who wouldn’t respond to that.

And here is Donna’s review of the book – note the similarities to the NYTimes review:

IMPERFECT BIRDS, Anne Lamott’s newest book, is the story of a California family, Elizabeth, James and Rosie.  Elizabeth, the mom, is a recovering alcoholic – pretty fearful and insecure and extremely protective and loving.  James is her second husband and Rosie’s step-father.  Her first husband died when Rosie was little.  Elizabeth has been married to James for quite awhile and he has been a partner in raising Rosie.  Rosie is 17 and the book begins during the summer before her senior year in high school.  Rosie is athletic, beautiful, and smart (straight A student in AP classes).  Elizabeth and James are not blind to the drinking and sex that Rosie and her friends engage in, but they struggle with trying to figure out what to do.  It turns out that Rosie has a much, much bigger problem with alcohol and drugs than they could even imagine.  The clues are everywhere, but Rosie is adept at manipulating and lying, having done it for years and Elizabeth is desperate not to see the truth.  There is a lot of enabling and constant denial.  This struggle of getting caught and wiggling out of any consequences goes on in the book for quite a long time.  I found myself thinking “OK, I get the scenario – when is something big going to happen?  Let’s move along!”  Something big finally does happen and the last part of the book and the ending were much more satisfying to me.  We are left with hope that treatment will help Rosie, although we are given no definite answers.  Very real-life, I thought.  Lamott’s humor is excellent and it saved the book for me.  In my own experience with an adolescent child with an addiction, I just could not summon up the courage or skill to use humor to cope.  I think it is an important strategy and I have a lot of admiration for people who can laugh at life’s worst moments and help me to laugh.  Lamott does this so well.  I found out after I read the book, that Lamott also wrote two other pieces of fiction about this same family (Rosie’s younger years, I believe).  In her non-fiction, Lamott describes her own difficult growing up years, and her struggles with being a single parent to her son.  It felt likely that IMPERFECT BIRDS was partly memoir.  Lamott exhibited a lot of knowledge about addictive behavior.  She  communicated well the feel of the struggles of both parent and child when the hard, hard work of growing up is made worse by addiction.  This is worth the time to read, but I think Lamott is at her best when she writes non-fiction.

Yes – some of you may want to read Imperfect Birds, with its up-close-and-personal look at a family struggling with addiction.  But Donna’s addendum to her book review, was even more pertinent:

One more thought about books….my daughter is an avid reader and I have found that we can (often) discuss very difficult subjects by talking about books we’ve read.  It is sometimes clear to me (and probably to her too, she isn’t dumb!) that, at a deep level, we are actually talking about ourselves or family members or friends or experiences, although on the surface we are discussing a book.  Same goes for movies.  It has allowed us to share opinions and feelings at times, without such a big risk.  I am careful about passing along a book or movie suggestion if I know that my motives are manipulative.  For example, I hesitated to recommend the movie “Crazy Heart” to her, thinking the message would be too obvious.  However, when she was visiting a week ago, she picked up the CD soundtrack that was laying around and I asked if she’d seen the movie.  She said “no”.  Without pushing it, I said how much I’d liked it.  Anyway….it’s just another value of books.  In addition to educating ourselves and reducing our ignorance, it can be an avenue of communication.

So true.  I found the movie, Crazy Heart to be one of the best movies about alcohol I’ve seen.

And so – use a book, a TV program, and/or a movie to start a conversation – with a spouse, a child, any one with whom you need a ‘safe’ arena in which to discuss ‘prickly’ topics.

Donna also noted that as parents, we’re led to believe that if our kids are good students, and involved in sports, school, and community activities, that they’re somehow protected from the disease of addiction.  We both now know that this is not necessarily true.

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4 Responses to “A Book As A Bridge”

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Great topic. I am an Anne Lamott fan and have read most of her books, but this one disappointed me a bit. I wrote a review on it on my blog.

So true….. I no longer use TV or books as a segway, people always seem to know what is on my mind. Stevie, drugs, the messed up legal system. Thanks for the advice….

Wonderful advice about using books/tv/movies to start a convo with a child. I’ve found that Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweek by David’s son Nic are also great books.

Olivia – thanks for this comment. I loved David Sheff’s book, Beautiful Boy. I reviewed it on several of my blog posts, as well as in my “BookRecs” tab on my blog. I also heard both David and his son, Nic, speak in Seattle at a fund raiser for Recovery Cafe. I haven’t yet read Nic’s book, Tweak. I need to. A very good younger friend of mine told me that her 13 yo son and his friends had passed Nic’s book, Tweak around – that it was apparently, very “hip” reading for adolescents. This scared me at first – that some of the more explicit, sordid details of Nic’s drug use and lifestyle, would be too much for young teenagers. But, perhaps, that is exactly why it’s so popular – and the message of the book has to come across as one of caution and prevention, doesn’t it? I just hope that Tweak doesn’t glamorize/romanticize some of the drug use highs and as a result, some more vulnerable kids would be tempted to try it. That’s just my paranoia, I guess. Peggy


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