In 1999, Anne Lamott released Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, and her readership and fame skyrocketed. A memoir that takes readers through the author's struggle with alcoholism and her search for her own soul, the book resonated with readers who wrestle with their faith while living their ordinary lives. Her essays brim with straight-on honesty and drop-dead humor that is both disarming and engaging, leaving readers unsure whether to laugh or cry or both.
Now her holy - and wholly - irreverent voice is back in this new collection of essays, most of which began as columns on Salon.com. Like the rest of us, Lamott is six years older now and living in a world that feels more anxiety-ridden all the time. Her son is a brooding teenager, she turned 50, and her mother died from Alzheimer's. And then there are little things like war and terrorism and death to consider.
In Plan B, Lamott takes on these issues with her favorite prayers: "Help, help, help" and "thank you, thank you, thank you." Her somewhat uncon-ventional Christian faith grounds her and enables her to respond to the world out of love rather than fear most of the time. The journey Lamott takes here feels less momentous than the one in Traveling Mercies, perhaps because Plan B is a story of perseverance and maintenance rather than one of conversion. Still, she's able to find the transcendent moments of grace in the everyday, and that's as good a testament to faith as one can hope for.
Lamott's Christian faith feels far more genuine than the pious proclamations commonly heard these days, words that purport to be for the glory of God but all too often sound like "Listen to me 'cause I'm holier than you." Self-deprecation is more Lamott's style, and her testifying comes most often in the form of confessions. Yet she challenges herself at every turn: to be a better mother to her son, to forgive her own mother for her imperfections, and not to let her opposition to the Bush administration lead to hatred. For those of us who are her neighbors on the political spectrum, her struggle to love those in power raises real challenges. ("[T]rying to love the people in this White House is the single most subversive position I could take," she writes.) I hope those elsewhere on the spectrum can respect her internal struggle and her ability to turn pathos into humor - and such good reading.