Imperfect Birds
Anne Lamott
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Buy *Imperfect Birds* by Anne Lamott online

Imperfect Birds
Anne Lamott
288 pages
April 2010
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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A brilliant literary talent, Anne Lamott opens her exquisite book with Elizabeth Ferguson and her writer husband, James, fixing their beautiful teenage daughter, Rosie, with a worrisome eye. Quite a few novels have explored the perils of illegal drug-taking, but none of them match Lamott’s searing, honest account of her heroine’s rapid descent into a cycle of addiction and codependency, a kaleidoscopic, drug-fueled private hell where Rosie’s sly deceptions only hint at the agonizing realities that will eventually confront her mother and her stepfather.

As James and a perpetually anxious Elizabeth wait for Rosie on the wide steps of the Parkade, the parking bay at the center of the seemingly placid town of Landsale in northern California, Elizabeth already feels “large and worried,” obsessed with the dreadful news that Rosie has tried cocaine a few times and every so often smoked cigarettes. Elizabeth is already conflicted about what she knows and admitted to, and what must be kept secret from James. Clearly she knows her daughter, having spent so much of her life battling her own addiction to alcohol, a catalyst for her accompanying depression and breakdowns.

Rosie steadily transforms into a tall and voluptuous beauty, a willful, rebellious teenager obviously too wise beyond her years. The stage is set for a dramatic showdown between mother and daughter, their distressing, dysfunctional relationship setting the tone of the entire story. Elizabeth is at first blithely nonchalant about her daughter’s destructive compulsions, both James and her seemingly clueless as to what is really going on: “she’s just gotten drunk a few times and smoked little pot.”

Together with her partners in crime - angelic-faced Alice, who drinks but prefers weed and mushrooms, and Jody, who looks like she’s just stepped out of “a Mozart Opera” - Rosie embarks on a summer of chronic drug-taking, popping Valium, Quaaludes and Percocet, giving oral sex to boys for cocaine, smoking marijuana laced with angel dust, and going to late-night rave parties high on acid taken on top of a couple of tabs of Ecstasy “because she could no longer get off on just one."

While the world becomes like “a shimmering rainbow,” the sky shifting “electromagnetically beneath her,” Lamott’s frank and brutally honest tale steamrolls forward. We watch and read, appalled at Rosie’s incessant deceptions and her sly, manipulative ways of pulling the wool over the anxious eyes of James, her mother and Elizabeth's best friend, Rae. Lamott refuses to compromise, pulling no punches as she gets into the mindset of her two women, her gorgeous, crystalline prose deeply reflecting a mother and her daughter spiraling toward the brink. The grisly details eventually spill out - the secrets, the lies, the half-truths, the unbleached urine and testing positive for THC, all of the mushrooms and the acid. Time flutters and weaves, perhaps shepherding in a new period of redemption for Rosie and Elizabeth, clearing a path away from “the seesaw of trusting and of being betrayed, from the caving in and then saying yes.”

At the end, there’s finally a sense of being free: the birds, if not perfect, are perhaps restored, and Elizabeth and Rosie may have been liberated from the dark forces surrounding them, along with the inevitable pressures of adolescence and the devastating cycles of dependency. Yet the terrible power of Rosie’s and Elizabeth’s saga remains undeniable, a stark and poignant reminder of the perils, pitfalls and strange, seductive web of drug addiction.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2010

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