Some social problems are too complex to attack in a 1,500-word editorial.
Question: What new groundrndid you try to break for yourself as a writer in your new novel?rnrn
Anne Lamott: “ImperfectrnBirds” is the third book in a trilogy about these characters, Rosie andrnElizabeth Ferguson. Rosie is thernchild we first meet in the novel, “Rosie,” who is six or seven years oldrn andrnwhose father has just died. rnElizabeth is her mother who’s very tall and depressed and has a rnlittlernbit of money from the husband’s death and has no idea who she is in the rnworldrnexcept she is very fond of Rosie.rnrn
And in the second book of the trilogy, “Crooked rnLittlernHearts,” Rosie is, I think, it’s been a while, almost 14 and a champion rntennisrnplayer and starting to get very into the world of boys and that she rnreally isn’trnan attractive—she doesn’t feel like an attractive girl. Shern is tiny and not developed. Her best friend is rnjust this cheesecakernof vanilla beauty, Simone, and ends up pregnant by the end of the book.rnrn
But in “Imperfect Birds,” I wanted to see where rneverybodyrnwas a few years later. I wanted tornsee if Elizabeth had been able to stay sober, I wanted to see what rnElizabeth’srnmarriage to the wonderful novelist, James, was like and I wanted to see rnRosiernreally spreading her wings and going down some really dark paths. There are bad drug habit—drug problemrnin the county where I live, in fact in all of California, and in fact inrnprobably in all of the United States among teenagers who discover thingsrn likernecstasy and then prescription drugs. rnAnd they’re just stealing and a lot of the kids are being rnprescribedrnAdderall for ADD and ADHD and of course they love it because it’s very rnnicernmellow speed, and it helps them with their college exams. And we’ve had arn hugernproblem with OxyContin in our area and a number of deaths of my son’srnpeers. And so I wanted to writernabout it. I wanted to say, what’srngoing on here?rnrn
Question: How can fictionrnexplore social issues in ways that nonfiction can’t?rnrn
Anne Lamott:rnWell, it’s a very complex issue and it has many causes and roots and rnways tornapproach it from, so you really couldn’t do it any kind of justice in rn1,500rnwords or something. There are arnnumber of characters who are a different manifestations of... the answerrn to whorngets into drugs, is it the kids you think of as players? rn Well, Rosie is a 4.2 student headed torna very good college, who is beautiful, she’s a great tennis player, rnshe’s justrna wonderful person, and yet she’s got the genetic predisposition becausernElizabeth and her father are both alcoholic. There’srn just no level at which you can achieve that you’rerngoing to feel good enough about yourself to not wonder if you feel a rnlittle bitrnbetter with Adderall or ecstasy or if you might be more attractive to rnboys ifrnyou are willing to do this or that with them, or this to them, or forrnthem. And then her other friendsrnare very different than that. Onernfriend has been off to rehab already and one friend comes from a very rnnutty,rnsort of space-case mother, who I don’t think has any problem with rnsubstancernabuse.rnrn
So, it’s an epidemic in this nation and it’s rnkilling ourrnkids. Two weeks before I camernhere, a girl... I went for a hike before church and when I got to the rnocean, therernwere 150 people searching for her body, and she'd been partying with herrngirlfriends by the ocean and had wandered off and wasn’t found until thern nextrnday when she washed up at Muir Woods. rnSo, it’s a national epidemic. rnIt’s had a huge impact on my own family. Irn mean, my son’s friends, some have died. One of rnthem is at Napa State probablyrnfor a very long time, or forever, and he was the golden child; the rngolden boyrnof the high school. And I wantedrnto go really in-depth into it. Irnwanted to view it from the mother’s point of view, I want to view it rnfrom thernpoint of view of the community, and how scary it is to do anything withrnteenagers that might mean they stop loving you or thinking you’re the rncoolrnparent. And I wanted to write itrnfrom inside the child, the young adult, who is making it all seem like rnit’s thernparent’s problem, or fault.
Recorded April 6, 2010
rnInterviewed by Austin Allenrn