three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
By: 
Anne Lamott
user_rating: 
0

A-Imperfect Birds.epsAnne Lamott, best known both for her books on writing and for her New Agey, spiritual reflections on faith, is the author of Operating Instructions (1993), Bird by Bird (1994), Traveling Mercies (1999), Plan B ( 4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2005), and Grace (Eventually) ( 4 of 5 Stars May/June 2007). Imperfect Birds is the third in a trilogy that starts with Rosie (1983) and continues with Crooked Little Heart (1997).

The Story: Readers met Rosie Ferguson first as a child in Rosie and then as a young teen in Crooked Little Heart. Now, the beautiful tennis prodigy--the daughter of recovering alcoholic Elizabeth and her new husband, James--has evolved into a typical 17-year-old girl in privileged Marin County, California. Yet though she's an AP student with good parental relationships, her concerns the summer before her senior year are perhaps not so typical: she leads a double life as she slides into hard drugs and casual sex. Imperfect Birds explores her self-destructive lies and friendships, her parents' panic, and the dangerous paradox that the teenage girl has become.
Riverhead. 278 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781594487514

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"The only negative comment I can make about Imperfect Birds is that ... it's too short, and given Lamott's record ... it'll probably be several years before we get another dose of her fiction. This is brilliantly witty, powerfully emotional fiction that has the power to change how readers think." Joy Tipping

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Not only is it a moving and perceptive portrayal of raising a substance-abusing teenager, but it implicitly offers the kind of advice that many parents need to hear. One hopes that concerned friends and school counselors will begin passing Imperfect Birds to beleaguered moms and dads just as they've long given copies of Operating Instructions to expectant parents." Ron Charles

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"With the authority of an anthropologist, Lamott renders the very current world of what it is to be an upper middle-class, progressive parent in a place like the Bay Area. ... Yet there lies both the success of Imperfect Birds and its biggest failure: In reflecting back to readers the conventions of their world, the context itself isn't examined but rather taken as a norm." Samantha Dunn

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The psychological acuity Lamott demonstrates for all her characters is the biggest payoff in this novel, giving the narrative a startling 3-D roundness of vision. ... True, there is a whiff of the pamphleteer to Lamott: The Ferguson novels announce their Big Themes early on and adhere to them without swerving." Lauren Groff

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Novels rarely work as real-time chronicles, and the clearly autobiographical nature of this one makes its lack of plot that much more distracting. ... Though as a book reviewer, I've found much to quibble with in this book, as a parent, I find it resonant and true." Julie Wittes Schlack

Entertainment Weekly 2 of 5 Stars
"At first, it seems Anne Lamott, always a lovely writer, has nailed adolescent bluster and swagger. But once Rosie--smart, wild--starts to grapple with addiction, she becomes almost a caricature of the Troubled Teen." Tina Jordan

Minneapolis Star Tribune 1.5 of 5 Stars
"In Imperfect Birds, there's no cause for a whole town of self-destructive teens, all vying, by turns, to die on the road, slash their wrists and get carted off to rehab. As a result, their addled states seem less pitiable than narratively willed." Susan Comninos

Critical Summary

Like her nonfiction, Imperfect Birds reflects Lamott's philosophy on God and faith; it also showcases Lamott's exquisite writing, wry wit, wonderful dialogue, and believable characters. However, critics diverged on a number of points. While some praised the narrative arc, others thought that nothing much happened, "just a trudging advance across flat terrain" that marks a typical family crisis (Boston Globe). More seriously, despite familiarity with Lamott's philosophies and left-leaning politics, a few reviewers had difficulty sympathizing with bored, upper middle-class youth in the San Francisco Bay Area. While Imperfect Birds will certainly resound with parents, other readers may wish to go back two decades and start with Rosie.

Critics' Pick

A-Cost.epsCost | Roxana Robinson: In this devastating novel, a mother deals with her heroin-addict son. Jack's desperate plight exposes the emotional bonds that can rend, unite, or destroy not only an individual but an entire family. ( 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2008)