For the past decade, Anne Lamott's writing career has been predicated on the simple fact that when you're betting on the American public's buying tastes, you can't go wrong by leaning heavily on babies and Jesus
. Lamott has evolved from a novelist to a best-selling essayist on spirituality and motherhood (and, eventually, grandmotherhood), and her ideas are getting flimsier as her career progresses. Her newest book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers
, is essentially a pamphlet, a tiny, expensive hardcover pep rally for cafeteria Christianity.
Lamott's prose has codified over the years into something folksy and cheery and cutely self-mocking, like the neighbor you feel guilty about hating. Early on in Help, Thanks, Wow, she offers to "lend you my higher power, this sweet brown-eyed Jew who will want you to get glasses of water for everyone, and then come to the beach for some nice fish." But Lamott's not picky about where her spiritual satisfaction comes from. She calls Rumi her "general-purpose-go-to-mystic." She just wants you to believe in some sort of higher power. Any higher power is just fine in the church of Lamottism. The first step to becoming a practitioner of Lamottism, she says, is to admit "the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little." After a little work, "it's not such a huge step to imagine yourself believing in any sort of higher power, to whom you could say, 'Hey.'"
So casual! So friendly! Lamott says "Hey" to her god when she's feeling down, when she woke up with "loneliness... sitting on my chest like a dental X-ray apron, even though I was buried in hairy dog love." Saying "Hey" to the god of Lamottism is often as simple as "splurg[ing] on a pint basket of figs, or a pair of great socks
," and it makes you feel you're in a state of "wonder," no matter how much "the New York literati or your atheist friends" may despise that word.
There's an underlying bitterness, and an overt ostentatiousness, in all of Lamott's examples...
(Keep reading to find out what all this has to do with Christopher Hitchens.)