Lamott, son describe latest book in Montclair Village appearance
By Lou Fancher Contra Costa Times
Wrapped in best-selling author Anne Lamott's latest book, "Some Assembly Required," a memoir about her grandson's first year, is the story of a baby, a boy becoming a man and a getting-wiser woman.
As in the Marin County novelist's "Hard Laughter," written after her father was diagnosed with brain cancer, and "Operating Instructions," a nonfiction account of single-parenting her son, Sam, Lamott writes with magnified honesty about endings and beginnings.
The backward order -- end before beginning -- is deliberate. In Lamott's world, cessation signals the start of something new. Sobriety marks a new life; the death of a parent thrusts a child toward virgin independence; the end of pregnancy gives birth to an all-out battle to maintain hope and perspective until, blessedly, tortuously, a parent (and then again, a grandparent) finds ease in letting go.
With "Some Assembly Required," Lamott enters a dual literary land by sharing authorship with her son. In a series of near-daily entries, her "dear diary" musings combine with emails and interview replies from Sam and occasionally, Amy, the mother of the book's epicenter: baby Jax.
After recovering from the initial shock of her 19-year-old son's too-early-for-her fatherhood, Lamott found a macrame of brooding, maternal fixations and fetishes in grandmotherhood.
"I am experiencing sickening fear, the need to control and the ubiquitous litany of good ideas," she writes. Sam found ... his mother. Occasionally smotheringly, sometimes hauntingly.
"The worrying. I swore I'd never be like you, have the obsessive psycho worry about my kid," he writes, about undesirable (but understandable) traits he carries to the next generation.
At the crux of the crucifix Lamott bears and shares with quintessential, self-deprecating humor (her trademark dysfunctional neocortical machinations ring true, if repetitious) is her intense desire to take over the world by examining every last strand of every word, act or deed and how they relate to her. Even when they don't.
In fact, Lamott would be tedious -- and would never have attracted the rabid crowd of followers she gained in the 1990s -- if she wasn't a skilled, comedic writer. Just as you begin to think she's the Mother Teresa of all grandmothers or feel tempted to holler "Get over yourself!" when Amy appears poised to move to Chicago with Jax and all Lamott can think of is her own pain, there's a crash-back-to-earth expletive or revelation. It's rather like she's picked up a saucepan and hit herself on the head -- lightly, just enough to shake things up and tickle out a laugh at her own expense.
And proving comedic skill is not reserved for her words on paper, Lamott is a popular lecture and book tour speaker. At Montclair's A Great Good Place for Books on April 18, the bigenerational Lamotts drew an elbow-to-elbow crowd and praised longtime owner Kathleen Caldwell's "honest, crowded-with-books-and-people" store.
"It's like a church: sacred," Lamott says. During the next 60 minutes, Sam was mostly silent, allowing his mother to do what she does: tell stories.
"I was in Chicago on tour, and they brought me a little white goldfish," she said. "I loved him; named him "Phil." Then I struggled with taking him with me on the plane. I thought I could pitch my moisturizer and bring him in my little baggie past the TSA's, but I had to leave him, and things haven't been the same since."
Lamott says publishing with her son was a dream come true because ever since she first wrote about him, readers have been asking, "How's Sam?"
Sam says he embarked on the shared task with one purpose: "My main concern was just not to destroy her career."
Like parenting, they say writing is time-consuming, without shortcuts and occasionally left them feeling "awfully pathetic."
And because their book ends when Jax is 1 year old, the inevitable "How's Jax?" starts a post-reading Q and A.
Sam says he and Amy have separated (Lamott's greatest fear, cataloged throughout the book), but share custody amicably.
Grandmother Lamott says Jax is now 33⁄4-years-old and recently gave her a thumbs-up and a "You did a good job reading, Nana," review after a Dr. Seuss selection. Like many of Lamott's replies, her answers to questions about writing and grandparenting coalesce in a silly-sour, poetic blend.
"Start on page seven; before that, you're just trying to get in the water. Be where your feet are. Finding your way back to your heartbeat is hardest, but it's what we do."