Book Review: Well-Behaved? Let's Assume Not.

Anne Lamott's collection of essays offer prime examples of her crystalline insights and wicked wit

Well-Behaved? Let's Assume Not.

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace

by Anne Lamott
Riverhead Books, 304pp., $29.95

Though I only met author Anne Lamott briefly at a writing conference 20 years ago, I've often had the sense that she was writing to me personally. Perhaps that's because divine providence seems to put a particularly apt collection of her essays into my hands just when it can be the most useful and enlightening. So it was with her newest book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Mom­ents of Grace, which hit my inbox a few short weeks after the death of my treasured younger sister. Once again, Lamott unknowingly shared balm for the pain of a stranger with wise perceptions about the process of grieving and glimmers of light for the path through it to comfort. In "Ladders," she explains the necessity of actually experiencing grief in order to heal, illuminating the nature of the situation with the metaphor of a lazy Susan – "one day it is heavy and underwater and the next day it spins and stops at loud and rageful, and the next day at wounded keening, and the next day at numbness, silence." I found amazing solace in the fact that someone else had such acute comprehension of my recent emotional state.

The essays also offer prime examples of Lamott's crystalline insights and wicked wit. There are laugh-out-loud moments, as in the hilariously brave "Matches," which includes the description of how a CPAP machine can transform an intimate relationship from "an experience similar to sleeping next to a dying silverback gorilla into something like sleeping next to an aquarium," and frank revelations about her personal brand of "left-wing Christ­i­anity," that sound a clarion call to social activism rather than sanctimonious judgment. It is so good to hear from her again.

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