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March 17, 2005

Blue Shoe by Lamott, Anne

Filed under: Fiction | Buy on Amazon

Mattie Ryder is a 37-year-old, mother of two who recently divorced her cheating husband and moved into her mother's rat-infested house.

Blue Shoe is the story of her trying to cope while caring for her rapidly aging mother, falling in love with a married man, and uncovering yucky secrets about her deceased father.

The title refers to a plastic shoe Mattie finds in the glove compartment of her father's old VW van. It functions like a security blanket, giving her fingers something reassuring and soothing to caress. And with all the chaos in her life, she needs it. Anne Lamott's novels, and her own life, are often about existing on the edge of sanity, where things can come flying apart at any moment; much like Otis, Mattie's normally stoic pet iguana and his spastic poop-spewing episodes. Stories like this are oddly comforting because--though we hate to admit it -- that's how most of us live (on the edge of sanity, I mean--not spewing poop).

Faith naturally sneaks into the story, just like it does in real life (just like profanity and sex and laundry sneak their way into both the story and real life). But it's obviously Lamott's brand of universalistic faith. While grace pervades, there's little mention of sin or repentance. Mattie prays about her problem with hatred while committing adultery. We don't need the life-sucking guilt of Tess of the D'Ubervilles, but Jesus didn't say, "Go and screw some more." Paul describes the struggle with sin in Romans, and grace is the answer that allows him to overcome. Mattie doesn't seem to know she's struggling with sin, and it makes for cheap grace.

Lamott's writing is packed with literary trinkets and beautiful images, though occasionally you'll stumble across a recycled image. The story is poignant and realistic, making you want to strangle or hug Mattie and tickle or lecture her children--it's hard to decide which is appropriate.

Anne Lamott on Salon.com

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