I read Anne Lamott’s beautiful Traveling Mercies over the past few days. I have in the past been a real cynic about stories like hers — alcoholism, spiritual conversion — but I’ve softened and Lamott tells her story in such an open and accepting way that there’s nothing to feel but love for her. She presents the facts of her life plainly and there’s something about her prose that shows you she’s in it. She is the words she writes. Maybe I’m being a little goofy by saying it that way so let me make a comparison. As much as I love David Sedaris’s writing, I often feel like the narrator is removed from the action — like David is an observer to his own life, not exactly a participant.
One of the things that draws a stark contrast between Sedaris’s Naked and his later collections — for me — is that because I read Naked after I read the others, I kept wondering when he was going to tell me he’s kidding. Awful things would happen to him when he’d put himself in these weird situations — hitchhiking, working in the apple processing plant — and I’d think it was some sort of fantasy.
Anyway, that’s a tangent. What I was saying is that Lamott’s writing tells you she’s there. She may have been high. She may have used bad judgement. But she’s the one who did it. And she’s trying to work it out. It’s often heartbreaking to read her stories but her direct discussion of her struggles shows tremendous strength (a strength that she may not even know). She’s dealt and continues to deal with so much pain in her life that it’s inspirational. And how she manages to be hilarious on top of all that is downright heroic.
I loved it. I completely vandalized my mother’s copy of the book with underlinings and dog-ears. Now I’m going to have to buy a copy of my own because my mother wants hers back.