About 20 years ago, writer Anne Lamott found herself unexpectedly expecting. As a single mother, she relied on her close circle of friends and family, and the comforts of her faith, to help her raise her son, Sam. She shared the difficulties and joys of the first year of motherhood in the bestselling memoir OPERATING INSTRUCTIONS. In 2009, when Sam was just 19 years old, he became a parent himself. Dealing with another surprise pregnancy and the fact that she was a grandmother much sooner than she had thought she would be, Lamott once again recorded her thoughts and emotions in a journal, now published as SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.
"SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED is touching, warm, thoughtful, spiritual and still hilarious.... However, the funny here is never silly; it is wise and sometimes self-deprecating, sharp and still kind-hearted. And it makes for a lovely, enjoyable and poignant memoir."
Jax Lamott was born to Sam and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Amy, in July 2009. Feeling too young at 55 to be a grandmother, and wishing Sam and Amy were more settled and prepared to be parents, Lamott nevertheless falls head over heels in love with Jax. Despite the fact that Jax, like Sam had been, was surrounded by loving well-wishers, things were not easy. Sam and Amy were tired and irritable, and Amy was far from her family and close friends. But this is Anne Lamott's story; it is the record of her hopes, fears, anxieties and happiness as Jax grows day by day (and as Sam and Lamott herself grow everyday as well).
Still, Sam has a voice in the book. Through emails and interviews with his mother, he shares how he feels about becoming a father and about being a son. Like his mother, Sam has a way with words: his descriptions are at once very personal and quite universal, and his honesty and sincerity add a welcome layer of meaning to the story.
While Jax hits all the usual milestones, like rolling over, grabbing his own toes and teething, his grandmother hits milestones of her own --- ones seldom noted. She has to let go control over her young son; watch another woman, his mother, capably care for Jax; realize that things will work out for the best even if they don't work out the way she wants them to; and come to see herself in a long line of familial generations. As she becomes the matriarch of her family, she reflects back on her relationship with her own parents.
But weighing more heavily is the deterioration of her beloved uncle. As Jax thrives, Uncle Millard shrinks and grows weaker; it would be a pat analogy for cycles of life for a lesser writer, but from Lamott the distinction between these two loved ones is natural and beautifully contrasted. And a trip to India, with all its wild and ancient civilization, both grounds Lamott and stirs up feelings of tender humanity. Again she is skilled enough to write her busy days in India as the perfect counterbalance to the hours she spends cuddling Jax, without hitting readers over the head with the idea.
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED is touching, warm, thoughtful, spiritual and still hilarious. In fact, if you think that a book about teenage parenthood written by an observant Christian lacks a sense of humor, think again. Humor is one of Lamott's strong suits and the trait that makes the anxiety and frustration she often feels manageable. It is what makes readers, even ones whose lives are so different, return to her nonfiction again and again. However, the funny here is never silly; it is wise and sometimes self-deprecating, sharp and still kind-hearted. And it makes for a lovely, enjoyable and poignant memoir.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 19, 2012