The author’s spirituality pays fewer redemptive dividends than usual in a follow-up guide that falls short of its predecessor.
Lamott is a much-beloved writer whose distinctive combination of deep spirituality and wry, post-hippie humor has highlighted work ranging from memoir to fiction to an engagingly intuitive writing guide (Bird by Bird, 1995). Her most recent book, the prayer guide Help, Thanks, Wow (2012) became a best-seller, and she frames this successor as a companion volume. Yet the format doesn’t work as well for a book that’s more like the flip side of the previous book’s coin. It’s kind of a spiritual self-help book on how to handle tough times and persevere even when it’s difficult to discern any cosmic order in the chaos of life. However, this book serves more as an extended metaphor about how stitching things up, even patchwork-style, can help one cope. “We live stitch by stitch, when we’re lucky,” writes the author. “If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching.” The perspective reinforces the recovering alcoholic’s one-day-at-a-time experience, and the metaphor threads throughout this slim book. It’s not surprising that a book about persevering in the wake of tragedy, either global or personal, might have less of the author’s humor than her other work, but what’s mainly missing in comparison with her treatment of similar themes in longer books is the more deeply personal experience. Except for chapters on being a sensitive child in an alcoholic household and mourning a friend who died too young, she seems to skim the surface with elliptical anecdotes and homilies such as “we do what we can, as well as we can” and “life [is] erratic, beautiful and impossible.”
Subtitled as a “handbook,” this is minor work from an author known for her range and depth.