cover image All New People

All New People

Anne Lamott. North Point Press, $16.95 (166pp) ISBN 978-0-86547-394-2

Confirming the talent evinced in Rosie (and somewhat obscured by the excessively arch tone of her last novel, Joe Jones ), Lamott here achieves her promising potential in a novel of rare sensitivity and evocative power. The rueful, elegiac tone of her prose balanced by humor and plangent insights, she tells a quiet but resonant story through the eyes of Nan Goodman, who has returned to the small northern California town of her childhood. This is a meticulously observed memoir of growing up as the child of ultra - liberal (former ``commie'') parents: her volatile father is a noted but not financially successful writer; her mother, a devout Christian who rails at God and seeks to reform the world through social activism. The extended family includes Nan's brother Casey, their feckless, alcoholic uncle Ed and obese aunt Peg, and Nan's mother's eccentric divorced friend, Natalie. There is little overt action here--Natalie gets pregnant by Ed, Casey smokes pot, their father leaves and comes back--but these events are magnified against the social and cultural currents of the '60s and '70s: developers change the character of the town, there is an epidemic of divorces, the drug culture takes its toll. The rural setting is integral to Nan's memories: the smell and sight of the sea, wildflowers on the brown hillsides, plum and apple and fig trees, pink and purple fog. Nan remembers it all with a clear-eyed nostalgia, acknowledging the migraines that made her an outsider, and the fear, shame and humiliation lurking even in the fondest memories of happy times. The emotional complexity of this understated tale makes it an absorbing read. (Oct.)