All New People

 All New People by Anne Lamott

I read the first half of this wondering where it was going and what it was about, but eventually realized I was missing the point. It's the well-meaning, messed-up characters that are the story here.    

Nan Goodman, recently divorced, comes back to her hometown in California and takes us through her memories of growing up in the turbulent 1960s. Her family is as peculiar as every family is when seen from the inside. Her father is a tempermental writer who never finds the level of success he hoped for, her kind and compassionate mother a devout Christian suffering with bouts of depression, and her brother somewhat of a rebel who dabbles in drugs. 

There is some plot in that her alcoholic Uncle Ed has a brief affair with Natalie, the best friend of Nan's mother, leaving Ed living with guilt and his wife, Pam, trying to find a way to live with the betrayal. Nan's parents have old ties to communism that seep into the story now and then, and Nan finds a friend in the ill-fated Pru, a young woman who comes to a gruesome and untimely end. So yes, a plot, but the best part of this book is Nan's insightful perspective on the people and situations around her. 

There are hints of trauma in her childhood that aren't fully explained and her growing-up years were filled with problems, but she narrates it all in a voice that never gives in to sentimentalism. I think that's why I liked it. She tells you about her life but doesn't play to your emotions; she leaves how you feel about it up to you. And the characters are all likeable, or if not quite, then understandable. You want them to succeed.       

The title comes from something Nan's father said to her:

"'Why do we make it all seem like a crisis, over and over again? Why do we worry it all to death, like dogs with socks or chew-toys? Look at it this way,' he said to me. 'In a hundred years? - All new people.'"

Set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing culture, All New People is an encouragement to keep on keeping on. Life is the thing and yes, it's hard and it's messy, but it goes on, and so can we. 


Post a Comment