April 2005

Laura Lee Mattingly

nonfiction

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

The first piece in Anne Lamott’s Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, entitled “The Ham of God” (how can you not want to read an essay with that title?), opens with: “On my forty-ninth birthday, I decided that all of life was hopeless and that I would eat myself to death.”

With an opener like that, it is hard to believe that this book will be, as its title not so subtly suggests, about faith. But actually it is about little else. In her reflections on faith, God, and Christianity, Lamott accomplishes what so many others have failed at: she presents Christianity in a non-intimidating, non-right-wing way. We see her life for what it is: the imperfections, the struggles, the chaos, and we miraculously, almost subconsciously, begin to understand her relationship with God. Through the retellings of her very personal experiences, she softly, quietly, encourages us to contemplate faith on our own.

The essays in the book cover a wide range of completely unpredictable but consistently charming events. “The Ham of God” begins, as I mentioned above, with Lamott waking up on her forty-ninth birthday feeling, well, suicidal. She can’t get off the couch. She stuffs her face with chocolates. She trudges to the market for ingredients for her birthday dinner, depressed, dejected, praying for help, when -- Hallelujah -- she wins a free ham. The checkout clerk is so excited about the fact that she has won a free ham that Anne cannot bring herself to say she doesn’t really want the ham, doesn’t even like ham, and instead waits patiently. Anne lugs the giant ham out of the store, trying to decide what in the world she’ll do with it when something amazing happens: she runs into an old friend in the parking lot who has hit hard times. She looks exhausted and tearfully tells Anne she has no money, at which point Anne reaches into her cart and presents the free ham as an offering. The friend accepts, crying with joy and Anne’s mood is instantly lifted. There you have it: everyday absurdities transforming into small miracles, the heart and soul of this book.

In “Cruise Ship,” Anne is persuaded by a priest friend to go on a cruise, something she is none too excited about given her fear of traveling and also of wearing a bathing suit in public, but she goes anyway. On the first day she finds herself surrounded by hundreds of US-flag-adorned, poofy haired people, many of whom are overweight and, she realizes after making a loud crack about President Bush while standing in line, Bush supporters. The story is about realizing that all these people, no matter how they voted or how ridiculous they may look lying out by the pool, are, in essence, God’s people and she coaxes herself to stop judging. And between trips to the buffet for more crème brulee, Anne also discovers how to love herself: she decides that her body, even the jiggly parts of her legs and butt (or “The Aunties” as she calls them) deserves to soak up the sun just like everybody else’s. A lesson in self-acceptance and acceptance for others is learned.

The essays in Plan B are similar in style and theme to the essays in her first memoir, Traveling Mercies, although Plan B is focused heavily on Lamott’s disappointment in and rage towards the Bush administration. Much of the book is about her trying to cope with a government she loathes, to lessen the hate she feels towards Bush by asking for God’s help. She proves that you can be a democrat, a liberal, and still be faithful, still be a Christian: a much-needed reminder in the aftermath of the “moral values” crusade when Christianity somehow became aligned with right-wing politics.

In Lamott’s famous Bird by Bird, she says: “A moral position is not a slogan, or wishful thinking. It doesn’t come from the outside or above. It begins inside the heart of a character and grows from there.” In Plan B, she follows exactly this advise written years ago -- she speaks from her heart, exposes the natural flaws and strengths of her character, and in this way teaches readers great moral lessons, all the while entertaining them with endlessly funny and compelling stories. In this book we discover that as a person, Anne Lamott is, at age fifty, still far from perfect (as the rest of us are), but that as a writer, she actually comes very close and only improves with age.

Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
Riverhead
ISBN: 1573222992
336 Pages