Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Book Report: Joe Jones by Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott's two books of essays/memoirs, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith are two of my favorite books. She has a quirky, honest way of writing that is very endearing. Plus she is laugh-out-loud funny. I recently read one of her novels, Joe Jones which is less successful. Lamott again demonstrates that she has a way with words; but her plot leaves a lot to be desired.

Joe Jones is Lamott's third novel, first coming out in 1985 and recently being republished. Lamott concedes in an interview with Powell' the Portland book seller that "it was just a mess in a lot of ways." It was written in the last few years of her drinking (she became sober in 1986)and she expected a natural progression in quality from her first two novels, but it was critically trashed, and people pretended that it didn't exist.

Joe Jones is set in a run down diner in the San Francisco Bay area, populated by a weird group of people, including Jessica, the 80-year-old owner; Willie, her gay grandson who is the waiter, dish washer and pastry cook; Louise, a waitress who appears to be the Anne Lamott character, and Joe Jones, Louise's faithless ex-boyfriend about whom she cannot stop obsessing. Louise, like Lamott, is a foul-mouthed fervent Christian, who doesn't let her Christianity get in the way of her compassion for life's losers. People die and leave in the novel, but it is not a depressing novel; Lamott uses her humor to keep the tone hopeful and light.

When I started reading the book, I was so taken with some of the writing that I started taking down quotes before I finally realized that I'm just going to wind up copying down the whole book. Some of my favorites, before I gave up jotting them down follow: (In reflecting on her relationship with Joe Jones, whom she has thrown out after yet another infidelity,) Louise says,
Really, she thinks to herself, you ought to be in love with someone you wouldn't mind being.

On Willie's grandmother's reaction upon learning that Willie is gay:
After a moment with deeply concerned indignation, she said, "I thought he just had good posture."

Christians who are easily offended should not read this book. Christians and non-Christians who need a strong plot to enjoy fiction should not read this book. People with and without faith who enjoy reading good writing just for the sake of how the words are put together will love this book. I gave it three stars.


rdl said...

Since I fall into that last category I'll guess I'll try it or the other 2 you mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I read Traveling Mercies and didn't like it very much although I loved her humor and reckless unconventional approach to Christianity. She is certainly an example of one who may not be well received in the majority of churches where members are more rigidly defined and homogeneous.

Poor Mad Peter said...

I've read 3 of Anne's non-fiction and 2 of her novels, the other being Blue Shoes. For my money, Joe Jones is the true dark horse, the sleeper, the underrated masterpiece. It is simply, brilliant.

Like Frederick Buechner, she has the ability to talk about life and faith in ways that go so far beyond conventional church culture into where faith really exists: life.

Amishlaw said...

Thanks for the comment, PMP. I'm not familiar with Frederick Buechner, but I'll look into him. I'm all in favor of irreverent reverence.