Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

Imperfect Birds is a heartbreaking account of one family’s struggle with their daughter’s addiction. The interesting thing about the story is that the parents had no idea the daughter had a drug problem and the girl lived a stellar productive life, for most of the book. We saw her dependency growing, and we were taken inside Rosie’s head and how she saw her drug use, and that was very real and believable. I had a problem understanding how mother Elizabeth didn’t really see it, but it was probably denial, and the blindness she had was drawn in a way that would make every parent look more closely at their child’s behavior. That was probably the point.

The conflicts are painful, as is the blindness. The reader knows all in this book in which we get into the heads of all the characters. We know the conflict inside Rosie’s head as she sometimes wonders why she’s behaving the way she does. We see the conflict between the parents and the child, and between parents. We see the enabling and control, the doubt and the sureness. We see the characters struggle out of the darkness they’ve chosen into the light of understanding. We feel the pain of parents who finally have to put their daughter into rehabilitation because they have to do something to save her. There are lots of parenting lessons here; James says, “Listen: Every time you draw the boundary way outside of what we’ve agreed on, she has to come back that much farther, to even meet us halfway.”

As the jacket cover says, “Slowly and painfully, Elizabeth and James are forced to confront the fact that Rosie has been lying to them—and that her deceptions have profound consequences for them all.” This is also accurate—“Imperfect Birds is Anne Lamott’s most honest and heartrending novel, exploring our human quest for connection and salvations it exposes the traps that life—and we—set for ourselves.”

There were many take-aways for me. I suspect others found they connected with the marital conflict, the parent-child issues, the struggle for self, the loss that comes from realizing life isn’t as good as we thought it was. But in the end, there was hope, and uncertainty, as Elizabeth and James left Rosie at the wilderness rehab lodge. “The doors slammed one by one, and the engine started up, but Elizabeth and James did not see the lights of the van up here, only the dim reading lamp by the bedside and the thin quartered light of the moon through the ox-eye window, and they listened to the van pull away in the night.”

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