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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

A Book Review - Anne Lamott, Blue Shoe

It is good for a cerebral type like me to read some fiction once in a while. Here I review a novel I just finished, purchased on a pilgrimage to the Holy Temple of Book Stores, the Strand, in New York City. You fiction mavens out there might enjoy this review. Any others, why not just skip this one?

Anne Lamott. Blue Shoe. New York: Riverhead Books, 2002.

The S.F. Bay area’s Anne Lamott is well known through her fiction (Joe Jones, Crooked Little Heart, All New People, etc.) and non-fiction (Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith). Both loved and distrusted for her outspoken faith and hilarious candor about messy issues like politics and sexual mores, Lamott is unflinching in reminding us that life is a bundle of contradictions for people like her, like me, like all of us, on the way but not there yet. A Guggenheim fellowship recipient, she has been a Mademoiselle book reviewer and a California restaurant critic. She has taught at UC Davis and teaches writing workshops across the U.S.

In Blue Shoe, Lamott allows us to eavesdrop and peek in on the tensions, struggles, and alliances made and broken by three generations of the family of Mattie Ryder, a forty something, perfect size 12, divorced mother of two young children, struggling to support her househool and to just make it through the night amidst the discouragements of life. Her narcissistic Liberal activist mother. Isa, looms over the narrative as does the shadow of her dead father, Alfred. Mattie’s is very much a typical Marin County family: well educated, artsy, hedonistic, liberal, free-living. The blue shoe named in the title is a vending machine trinket Mattie treats like a good luck charm. Tracing its origins connects Mattie and her brother Al to secrets that will wound before they heal.

Despite Mattie’s (and Lamott’s) transparent Christian faith, there are no plaster saints in this book, but only gritty, real people. Lamott is a disciplined author, and knows it is best to show rather than tell. Like a sea shell left on the shore by a receding wave, the theme of this book emerges from the experience of its characters rather than being placarded anywhere. The theme explicitly emerges in Chapter Ten, where Mattie tells her brother, “Yesterday I had an epiphany. I realized that all I have to do is to tell the truth, and let go of the results” (223). Her theme could be expressed in this wry version of a familiar New Testament text: “The truth shall set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”

This is my first Lamott novel, so I can’t compare it to others she has written. She succeeds here in opening her theme up to us like the leaves of an avocado, inviting all to slowly savor the subtle flavors and fragrances arising from her narrative. The pace is slow moving, and this too is a credit to Lamott’s artistry, because real life is not a quickly dispatched explanation, but a slow process of experience and discovery sorted out from the random tangle of the everyday.

I recommend Blue Shoe to anyone prepared to see life and relationships in full color rather than black and white. Lamott calls us to openness to new information, and to willingness to seek out and face unexpected or uncomfortable truths. The rich web of relationships clustered around Mattie Ryder is transformed as a result. If our experience would reflect theirs, we will need courage, curiosity, and perhaps a lucky blue shoe of our own.

At 11/05/2006 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Mattie’s is very much a typical Marin County family: well educated, artsy, hedonistic, liberal, free-living, then wouldn't Mattie live at Lake Wobegon ...where typical is not typical except in the world the author creates?

At 11/05/2006 8:27 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I meant to say "sterotypical." The difference is that "typical" alleges that the entity in question is a statistical norm, while "stereotypical" alleges that the manner of viewing that entity [in this case, Marin County families] is often couched in these terms, that is, as a sterotype, a cliché

I will correct my copy, and thank you for your astute comment.

At 11/07/2006 11:44 PM, Anonymous Zvi said...

Just a correction of fact. The peeling of leaves you had in mind were those of the artichoke, rather than of the avocado. Not much of a complaint, eh ?

At 11/08/2006 8:02 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Zvi,

How could I miss that! WHOOPS!

I will correct the gaffe. Todah Rabbah.



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