(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott describes her faith journey as “a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another.” Her chapter titles frequently show evidence of her Christianity, with titles that either describe religious principles, such as “forgiveness,” or the importance of family, such as “Mom” and “Dad.” However, as she shows, she began life in a home where emotions were repressed and religion was heavily disparaged. She has strong secular roots as well, and she freely admits to being a liberal who supported George McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972. Because her own journey was so capricious, she recognizes and respects plurality, transforming even her most intense religious experiences into moments with which all her readers can identify through the use of humor and vivid description. Many of these essays originally appeared in slightly different form online in Salon magazine.

Lamott begins with her childhood: She experiences an emotional distance from her parents in childhood, loving the feeling of belonging at a Catholic mass with a friend’s family. Later, moving to a castle whose emptiness echoes her family’s emotional repression, she becomes close to another friend’s mother, this one a Christian Scientist. This mother believes that God is a mother as well as a father, and that she, Anne Lamott, is beautiful, down to the wild and kinky hair that elicits her father’s friends’ racist jokes about her supposed mulatto heritage. Playing tennis with this woman’s daughter, Shelly, and sleeping over at her house, Lamott hides from the rest of her life. As her teen years progress, she becomes increasingly involved in drugs and alcohol, even getting drunk with her father one night while her mother is studying for a law exam. One college class draws her closer to God, and a group of Jewish friends celebrate her...

(The entire section is 775 words.)