Lamott infuses this peripatetic story of a woman’s struggles after a divorce with the same quirky brand of Christianity she explored in her wildly popular memoir, Traveling Mercies (1999).
When Mattie finally accepts that her marriage to the charming but unfaithful Nicholas is over, she moves her two children, Harry (six) and Ella (two), back into the house where she grew up because it’s free: conveniently, her mother, still intimidatingly energetic and competent at 72, has paid off the mortgage and decamped to an apartment. Over the next four years, Mattie goes through all the familiar rites of divorce: anger, longing, desperation, slow recovery to strength, and new love. Her children bring her solace even as they drive her crazy (Lamott is the master of domestic detail): Ella’s nail-chewing, Harry’s bouts of temper, as well as moments of tenderness are rendered with casual perfection. The description of the failed marriage itself, however, is generic, and Mattie’s sense of blamelessness in its collapse sets up a self-righteous tone not masked by self-deprecating humor, a Lamott trademark. Mattie prays her way out of bad feelings, and her religion weaves its way throughout, helping her cope as complications arise—which they do. She sleeps with her ex even after his girlfriend moves in and has a baby. She finds clues that her lovable father, a lawyer and liberal activist who died 20 years earlier, had a dark side. Her mother’s mind and body begin a slow, painful slide into senescence. Mattie’s dog dies. And then there is Daniel. We know he’ll become Mattie’s soulmate when he can’t bring himself to kill the rats he’s been hired to eradicate from Mattie’s infested house. While Daniel resists her attraction because he’s married, she takes him to her church (his wife is a nonbeliever), and they become best friends to a degree that would threaten the most secure spouse.
Lots of charm in the details, not much for momentum.