Anne LaMott's latest, Hallelujah Anyway: unreadable

I had high hopes. I was wrong. Here's why.

I read a plug for Anne LaMott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, on Maria Popova’s excellent “BrainPickings” newsletter. Popova described it as “a slim, powerful book about the ways in which we harden against life and the ways in which we can soften through forgiveness, kindness.” I was all in for that, but that's not what I got.

LaMott’s earlier work, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, is practically requisite reading for writers, even if I’ve never been able to shake the moniker a writer friend of mine gave it, Turd by Turd. Also — full disclosure — I haven’t read anything else of hers. Nonetheless, I’ve used her manual as a teaching guide in writing classes for its humorous writing tips. She’s also fun on Facebook. But with Hallelujah Anyway, it only took 13 pages to make me want to throw myself off a cliff.

It started with her first chapter, “The Mercy Workshop,” where her big idea is that we need to be merciful in order to have a gentler experience in life, but that it’s hard. Sure, that's true, but the way she puts it strikes me as narcissistic and it gets more so by the word:

“Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten.”

I don’t know about you, but my forgiveness doesn’t have the power of absolution. When I beg for mercy, I'm generally not speaking to a person (unless I'm being hyperbolic). The request is to ask the Lord for mercy on our souls, not the neighbor. If you’re an atheist, perhaps this works for you. But I think most atheists would’ve lost patience quicker, as from the first page a God is invoked, albeit a malleable one.

In that first chapter alone, LaMott’s God changes gender (sometimes He, sometimes She), jumps from African to Protestant traditions, and mixes it up with Game of Thrones. So atheists don’t really need to be afraid, and in my case this kept me going even as the whiffs of nausea came on.  

Mercifully, she wraps the chapter up by pointing out two bible parables — Jonah and the Whale and The Prodigal Son — that end with a question, making them more of a challenge than a foregone conclusion. “Will the older brother … go into the feast? Will you? Will I?” OK, I kind of wished she'd used the first person plural "we" there, but in the name of science, I plodded on. Once again, terribleness stopped me. 

“Raising my son brought me the greatest, happiest years of my life. And it was hard, which somehow people had forgotten to mention would be part of the mix. Oops.”

I’m going to read what amounts to a self-help book from someone who didn’t think it would be hard to raise a child?

No. I’m not.

And so, I forgive her and myself for the waste of money. But I’ll leave it to God to do the absolving.

Lisa L. Kirchner is the author of the critically-acclaimed Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar. Her work has appeared in book anthologies, magazines & newspapers including The Washington Post and Salon.com. Celebrity interviews include: Amy Sedaris, Xavier Dolan and John Sayles. At one time she was simultaneously the dating columnist for an alternative newsweekly, bridal editor for a society rag and the religion reporter for a gay and lesbian newspaper. More at lisalkirchner.com.

About The Author

Lisa L. Kirchner

%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="5a28746b3cab468d538eb081" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%Lisa L. Kirchner is the author of the critically-acclaimed Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar. Her writing has appeared in book anthologies,...
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