Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (New York: Penguin, 2005), 320pp.
Any new book by Anne Lamott is a welcome occasion, and this one was no exception. If you enjoyed her Traveling Mercies (1999), Plan B serves up more of her irreverent, painfully honest, explicitly Christian, and humorous reflections on following Jesus at fifty. Her son Sam is a teenager now, she has a new boyfriend, she still loves her integrated Presbyterian church in Marin County, California, and still works hard to accept her dysfunctional family of origin and the neuroses she inherited from them. Forgiving mom looms large, as did finally gathering the family to spread her ashes after hiding them in her closet for a couple years. The dog died. Friends died. She hates the Bush administration, loves Barbara Lee, and marched in peace protests. She started a Sunday school class for kids at her church. And, yes, she still sports dreadlocks and loves to sprinkle profanities throughout her narrative.
In her telling, all these prosaic events unfold with genuine insights about our fragile, fallen human condition and the tender mercies of God that attend to us if we would only slow down, breath deeply, open our eyes, see them, and receive them. Being kind is probably more important than being right. Don't try to fix others. Or again, if God hates all the same people you hate then you can be confident that you have created him in your own image.
I have to say, though, that at least in this book her nutty humor came across as "more of the same" and (I think she would admit this) self-absorbed. However humorous in the telling, there is nothing especially remarkable about parenting teenagers, middle-aged flabbiness, and cute little flower girls at weddings. I have only read Lamott's non-fiction, so perhaps her fiction attempts more serious forays into what it means to be fully human and truly Christian in our crazy world (she's published ten books). The problem, as I see it, is that Lamott writes as if she is always trying to be funny, and trying too hard. She is such a good writer that she usually is funny. But at some point it comes across like the proverbial class clown; you know they have even much more to offer if they would stop trying to make you laugh all the time. I did not get the impression from reading Plan B that Lamott has developed much as a writer the last few years. I wish she would, too, because she is a favorite Christian writer of mine and my expectations remain rather high whenever I pick up her latest work.