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Review

Carpenter and Lamott Find Common Ground in Stories

January 28, 2002|MARC WEINGARTEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The pairing of author Anne Lamott and singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter at UCLA's Royce Hall on Saturday could have gone any number of ways.

It could have been benignly quaint and genteel, like something that Garrison Keillor might feature on his "Prairie Home Companion" radio show. Or it might have quickly devolved into a mewling confessional--self-revelation as group therapy. Certainly neither artist has been immune from flirting with golden-hued sentimentality, but this wasn't one of those nights.

In what turned out to be an affecting meditation on the affirming role of emotional faith, Lamott and Carpenter created a dazzling evening of storytelling that stripped away show-biz artifice and relied on the enduring power of compelling narrative to hold the sold-out crowd in its grip.

The pair couldn't have looked more incongruous. Carpenter, with her straight blond hair and black jeans, came across every inch the Brown University grad, while Lamott's short dreadlocks and loose-fitting garb gave her the funky but chic appearance of a Berkeley food co-op proprietor.

Their art diverges in significant ways, as well. Carpenter's pop-tinged folk tends to avoid the caustic, hard-edged tone that Lamott has used so effectively in her novels and nonfiction, but the two managed to find common ground in material that stressed the healing properties of fortitude and the hard-won wisdom that can be wrested from misfortune.

Lamott, who read excerpts from her previous books and an upcoming novel, told stories about a child's peculiarly endearing love for a pet iguana; a woman's forbearance when faced with the deteriorating condition of her mother; and a spouse coming to terms with the death of her husband by conjuring up rosier memories. Her spare prose, laced with gallows humor and tender grace notes, made for satisfyingly compact set pieces.

Carpenter, who was accompanied by her longtime guitarist, John Jennings, chose material that effectively complemented Lamott's readings. Such songs as "Simple Gift of Faith" and "The King of Love," sung in a gorgeous, burnished voice, gave off the same glow of buoyant optimism as Lamott's stories.

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