It isn’t easy to categorize this memoir about personal growth and faith. I had not read anything by Lamott before my book club friend chose Traveling Mercies, which was published in 1999. Lamott is an Amercian novelist and nonfiction writer. Her first nonfiction book, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, was published in 1993. Lamott’s most recent novel, Imperfect Birds was published in 2010 and her most recent nonfiction, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace was published in 2013.
Born and raised in San Francisco, Lamott grew up in an unhappy home as a middle child in the 1960s and by thirteen, she and her friends were drinking and using drugs regularly. Her parents were both free spirited, non-religious intellectuals and, as a girl, she felt the comfort of community in many of her friends’ religions. She found her anchor in the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, but she battled depression, alcoholism, drug abuse and bulimia for many years, returning to St. Andrew’s to make sense of her struggles.
The subject is heavy, but Lamott writes with honest humor. She openly shares her weaknesses, failures, fears and bad judgement, not to preach or convert, but to tell the story of her journey as a single mother with a lot of issues. Her faith is highly personalized, tweaked to help her through difficult decisions and feelings of inadequacy.
Lamott adored her father, Kenneth Lamott, who was a writer and literary figure and a central figure in her life. His diagnosis of brain cancer and death at age fifty-six was a major blow to Lamott. She wrote Hard Laughter, her first published novel, as a tribute to him.
Traveling Mercies is an excellent read. The book’s appeal lies in its accepting and non-judgemental delivery. Lamott isn’t sending a message. She is telling us what works for her. I recommend Traveling Mercies to anyone who is interested in personal growth and in understanding relationships.
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