Anne Lamott's seventh novel features alcoholism, drug addiction, and family dysfunction. This will not surprise Lamott's fans. Her characters—including herself in her five nonfiction books—are always "imperfect birds," and some are clearly on the endangered list. Most are also sensitive, funny, intelligent, and frightened by the messes they keep getting themselves into. That's why we love them, and their author, so much.

Imperfect Birds (Riverhead), released today, continues the story of Elizabeth and Rosie Ferguson that began in Rosie (1983) and Crooked Little Heart (1997). You don't have to have read the first two books to understand the third, though a little background can't hurt. Elizabeth is the alcoholic daughter of two alcoholics. Her husband died in a car crash when their daughter, Rosie, was four. A couple of years later, Elizabeth meets James, an alcoholic would-be novelist. Eventually they marry and begin going to AA meetings. By the time Rosie is 9 or 10, her mother is clean and sober, though inclined to paranoid episodes and panic attacks. As Elizabeth battles her demons over the next several years, Rosie faces her own issues—a child molester, a pregnant friend, competition and cheating, and, always, the need for independence from her hovering mother.

By the beginning of Imperfect Birds, it looks as if Elizabeth, still worrying incessantly, has maybe given her 17-year-old daughter more freedom than the woman-child can handle. Rosie has been on the pill for two years, is sexually active, is unreliable and dishonest, drinks, does a wide variety of drugs, and runs with a fast crowd. Elizabeth more or less knows all this (though she is unaware of the full extent of Rosie's misbehavior) but is afraid ...

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