Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
By Anne Lamott. (Riverhead, 189 pages, $20.)
Just when you need someone to shake you by the shoulders and say, "Snap out of it," along comes Anne Lamott, bearing the writerly equivalent of a loaf of freshly baked bread — and a sharp knife.
In these unrelentingly anxious days, where "it's all Four Horsemen now, all the time," the author of several beloved bestsellers serves up her characteristic wisdom and wit, offering soul food for the weary and motherly advice on how we can all remain calm and keep our proverbial "stuff" together: "Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you."
Weighted by the despair, the anger, the hatred of our times, how to keep hope alive? Let her count the ways: There is still love, and goodness, too, along with the world's natural beauty, the power of stories, and our ability to embrace an inner peace. And then there's fear.
Life is nothing if not full of paradoxes, she writes. In the same way that light can both obscure and illuminate, fear too, while unpleasant on its face, can work an unexpected magic in hard times: "Fear, against all odds, leads to community, to bravery and right action, and these give hope."
The Lamott faithful and new readers alike will find some useful therapy here, though the short book's scattered nuggets of random truths oftentimes resonate greater than the whole.
Dopesick By Beth Macy. (Little Brown, 376 pages, $28.)
In "Dopesick," newspaper reporter Beth Macy focused her investigative skills and journalistic compassion to the devastating opioid epidemic. She tells a real-life horror story.
For three decades, Macy worked in Roanoke, Va., where she witnessed the sprawl of the epidemic across central Appalachia, "among the first places where the malaise of opioid pills hit the nation in the mid-1990s, ensnaring coal miners, loggers, furniture makers, and their kids." By the mid-1990s, pills had become the new coal, a boom-and-bust occupation and fixation.
A refrain she heard often as she traveled through Appalachia: "For that strong of a drug, for it to be everywhere you looked, it was like the government was controlling it, trying to get rid of the lowlifes."
Macy traces the transformation of the drug from its quiet origins more than 100 years ago into Purdue Pharma's modern juggernaut. She tells the stories of dealers, addicts, the doctors who raised alarms and those who handed out the drugs. She packs the story with devastating statistics.
The surviving parents of lost children are the heart of the book. Their stories are achingly similar: promising young lives derailed, lack of adequate treatment, impossible negotiations with insurers and the lost opportunities to get help. That golden moment of an addict's willingness to go in for treatment is so precious and fleeting that it has a name: liminality.
Only 10 percent of opioid addicts manage to get treatment. Even when they do, remission is elusive. The book has heroes, too: a country doctor, a nun-turned-drug-counselor, and researchers who pushed the alarm over and over.