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Anne Lamott, Imperfect Birds: A Novel (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 278pp.Anne Lamott, Imperfect Birds: A Novel (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010), 278pp.

           Anne Lamott takes the title for her latest novel from the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi: "Each has to enter the nest made by the other imperfect bird" (p. 54). Lamott's considerable following of readers knows that this is what she does best — describe our deeply imperfect lives with a mix of disarming candor, autobiographical insight, sardonic wit, and mystery of divine grace. The Ferguson family is her latest iteration of this familiar formula that has characterized her works of both fiction and memoir.

           Elizabeth and James are ten years into a second marriage and deep into all the angst that accumulates around mid-life. James is a writer for NPR who's enjoying some success, and also a step-father to their daughter Rosie. As such, he has more emotional distance from the family drama than Elizabeth, who's a stay-at-home mom and recovering alcoholic on anti-depressants for anxiety and rage. Their daughter Rosie is a senior in high school, a tennis prodigy, and straight-A student who has them wrapped around the emotional axle with her drift into drugs, sex, unhealthy friendships, lying, and all-purpose teenage alienation. Rosie and her mother epitomize co-dependent and enabling behaviors. Best friends Lank and Rae (a lay minister), along with a hip Marin county pastor named Anthony who's half Haitian and wears dashikis, help the Ferguson's negotiate these stormy waters.

           This sounds like a melodramatic soap opera, overwrought and overwritten, but it works because it mirrors what many of us live. I was a little unsatisfied with how Lamott ended her story, which was not really an end at all and not one with any surprises, but then again that's also true to life — much of life is getting out of bed, getting dressed, and showing up. Lamott hits the right notes when she reminds us of the divine grace enveloping our human messiness. It's like being "pre-approved." Or as Rae reminds Rosie: "You are loved because God loves, period. God loves you, and everyone, not because you believe certain things, but because you are a mess, and lonely, and His or Her child. God loves you no matter how crazy you feel on the inside, no matter what a fake you are; always, even in your current condition, even before coffee." (p. 14). That's the good news, no matter how horrible or banal our bad news.

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