Anne Lamott’s newest work, “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace,” is simultaneously dark, witty and optimistic. The long-awaited collection is spellbinding. It’s like taking a seat at her dinner table and listening to her recount her story: how she healed after the death of her father, best friend Sammy, and mother, and how she mustered the bravery to work her way through date after date at age 60 in search of “someone to text all day and watch TV with.” Some essays, like the one about dates with an Antonin Scalia look-alike and a couple of flaky Englishmen, point to the awkwardness and self-implication people need to smile at our wicked ways and failures.
Most of her stories, however, are filled with the darkness of hatred and disappointment and the mess that is forgiveness.
As Lamott writes, “I went around saying for a long time that I am not one of those Christians who are heavily into forgiveness—that I am one of the other kind.”
And though that used to be true — Lamott is known to tell exactly whom she hates, like published writers who don’t edit their work — the collection of stories unfolds as she finds unlikely victories in grace and forgiveness never known to be possible.
One essay in particular chronicles her hatred-gone-soft of a PTA mom who wears tight bicycle shorts and bakes Danishes. How could Lamott not hate her? But as you read along, you realize that your own hatred is as funny as hers. Your own “frenemy” is the product of insecurities, a monster invented to help swallow your shortcomings more easily. This is not a coincidence; Anne Lamott does for the reader what forgiveness does for her — bathes you in sunlight and gives you clarity.
But it isn’t all an easy road, paved with cups of tea and enlightment. Other essays stay in the darkness longer. Many essays involve the gritty reality that comes with housing and dispersing ashes, coming to terms with your friends’ mental and physical ailments and rifling through your dead mother’s purse.
In the essay “Mom, Part One: Noraht,” Lamott delves deeply into the emotional journey from relief after her mother’s death to “bewilderment that this person could have been in charge, dismay and something like hatred.” She doesn’t get to a good place until she moves her mother’s closeted ashes to the openness of her living room.
In the next chapter, a few weeks after having the ashes displayed in her living room, Lamott gathers a kooky clan of friends and family to disperse the contents.
Lamott writes, “Ashes always stick and pester you long after you have scattered them.” But that’s how life works; things don’t necessarily happen the way we’d like them to. Lamott assures us it’s better to try to find faith and peace than to let “the lifelong fear of grief [keep] us barren.” The author fills that void with unflinching honesty and she is successful as always.
Lamott will be in town at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov.19 to read and discuss her book. The reading is held at Community Christian Church, 4601 Main Street. One stamped autographing admission ticket, which costs $22.95 plus tax and comes with a hard copy of “Small Victories,” can be purchased at the Rainy Day Books website, http://www.rainydaybooks.com/AnneLamott.