For The Someday Book

Book Review: All New People

Posted on: April 13, 2010

All New People, by Anne Lamott, North Point Press, 1989.

Anne Lamott has done it to me again. The book may be 20 years old, written about a childhood 50 years ago, but the feelings and experiences of vulnerability, heartache and broken human relationships are as fresh as ever. All New People is the story of Nanny Goodman growing up in Marin County in the 1960s, with off-kilter parents and a clash between the tennis club perfection (and imperfection) and the leftist/hippie counterculture. We read Nanny’s perspective on the complicated and changing adult relationships with her parents, relatives and friends as she navigates her own attempts at relationships and growing selfhood.

This book spoke to me on a deep level. I was in tears before I even reached the first chapter. The prologue takes place in a hypnotist’s office, where grown-up Nanny has gone to find healing for her “anxiety, melancholia, fears of loss, rejection, death, humiliation, suicide, madness…” (6). The hypnotist asks her to scroll back through her life’s most painful memories, one by one, as though viewing each as a snapshot and analyzing the poses. She goes back to the very beginning, one of her earliest memories of pain, and then the hypnotist instructs her to help her child-self through each situation, offering words of comfort, healing, humor and forgiveness.

Nanny’s walk through her life’s painful moments became my walk through mine. There are painful memories in my life that I cling to fiercely, angrily. I have protected my anger in those moments like it is the only thing guarding my child-self from complete collapse. Probably, it once was. But Nanny’s walk made me realize that there is another way to protect the young girl in my memories. I don’t need to be angry and defensive on her behalf—perhaps I can just give her what she needed then, to help her out with comfort, healing, humor and forgiveness. Since reading that prologue, I have already begun a process of reviewing my personal painful snapshots, and stepping in to change the picture. I have been carrying these hurts for a long, long time. I already feel like the stone has been rolled away. The age-old anger is starting to abate, and the forgiveness creeping in. It has been a long time coming.

Later in the novel, Nanny describes an moving experience she had in church:

In a way that I’ve never quite understood, the veil tore an inch for me that day, like it does every so often, when in the midst of all that is mundane and day-to-day, there’s suddenly a tiny tear in the veil, and you see the bigger brighter thing, and then the veil repairs itself, and the day goes on as before. (142)

This is a great description of my experiences of holy encounters—but even more, it is what happened to me in reading the prologue of this book. The veil opened for me a tiny bit, and God shone through.

I think it’s Lamott’s perspective on life that opens my heart through her words. She just puts everything out there, with an amazing amount of honesty and reality. Things that I dare not speak, she names and pokes at and exposes to light. I think the clue to why and how is in the title line from the book:

I said to her what Ed said to me, which was 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.’ (117)

In a hundred years, all new people. Or, as Isaiah 40 puts it, “Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” So why worry ourselves about these old human hurts? Why delay forgiveness? “Comfort, comfort O my people.”

Once again, art is healing. Thank you, Anne Lamott.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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