Monday 6 July 2009 - Filed under reading
“It’s a waste of ink to defend myself, because people will believe what they want to believe anyway,” writes Lynne Spears in her autobiography Through the Storm. This is true, and Spears, the mother of pop star Britney and Nickelodeon TV star Jamie Lynn, seems to resign herself to this truth, generally staying away from self-defense and instead focusing on telling her story. If there is some indignation in the first half of the book, the uniqueness of Spears’s story sways one toward giving her the benefit of the doubt somewhere just past the midpoint. Whether you are inclined to blame Spears for her daughters’ very public adventures or to credit her for somehow holding it all together amidst them, you cannot deny that Spears is the only one who can tell this story, and this is both the strength and weakness of Through the Storm.
The book’s first chapters are at times melodramatically overwrought and yawningly proud, not at all unlike any mother’s account of her children’s exploits. Spears makes too big a deal of their accomplishments, personality quirks, and challenges, and it gets tiresome. Self-indulgent chapters describing her best adult friends and her relationships with her siblings read more like the Special Thanks To section at the back of the book, as if Spears feels the need to give quick shout-outs to everyone who contributed to her tale and might be reading this book, and here I first realized that I am not the author’s target audience. It occurs to me that Spears is reaching out to other moms, sharing with them the things they’ll want to read about and expressing the kinds of doubts, fears, and joys they’ll relate to. I am only guessing here, but do take my impressions of the early chapters with that in mind; I have a feeling this is the part of the book her audience will respond most positively to. I am not saying that stories of Spears’s son Bryan making a trip to the emergency room are not interesting, but we all have stories like this and they are not the reason most of us are buying this book.
The one facet of Spears’s early (that is, pre-Baby, One More Time) life that is fascinating is her relationship with her alcoholic ex-husband Jamie. In her descriptions of life in the cycle of alcoholism, Spears seems to drop the Blue Mountain sentiment and, without painting Jamie as a villain, presents what must have been a painful reality to share. There is very little woe-was-me stuff, though Spears does communicate well the stress and frustration that ruled her life. In fact, because she sets herself up as just a regular Southern mom, the effectiveness of this part of her story is heightened: this kind of thing happens to everyday people every day, and this is how one woman dealt with it. While I confess that my eyes glazed over at every mention of Bryan’s athletic exploits or young Britney’s precociousness, I found myself surprisingly sympathetic to and engaged by this woman’s dealing with an alcoholic spouse.
The entire book swivels at the point where Britney’s first record becomes an international hit, and here is where those who paid even peripheral attention to the mass media will begin to recognize some of the events that seemed to keep tabloids in business. Spears presents her side of all of it. The head-shaving, the Lolitaesque cover of the Rolling Stone, the relationships with Justin Timberlake and Kevin Federline, the thirty-six hour marriage to Jason Alexander, the endless circus of paparazzi, and the bizarre episodes under the management of svengali-like Sam Lutfi are told from a (sometimes estranged) mother’s angle. If you are expecting a provocative tell-all, you’re not going to get it here, but you will get the unique perspective of a regular mom in a highly unusual position.
Spears manages to stay away from both don’t-blame-me posturing and it’s-all-my-fault confessing, ‘though she does acknowledge feelings along both lines. Her sincerity and semi-penitent admissions near the end, where she says, “Every mother makes mistakes, and I’m no different. And honestly, I’d prefer to keep my regrets to myself” are the best part of the book. It seems at this point that she might cop out, but she comes ahead, outlining specifically where she thinks she might do things differently if she’d had the extra shot we all sometimes wish we had. While I’m sure it’s by no means a complete list, it’s enough to convince me that if Spears is to blame for any of her children’s misadventures, she is probably no more so than any of us would have been if we’d been in her shoes. In fact, a fair amount of credit is undoubtedly hers, too, for any successes the reader may wish to attribute to Britney and Jamie Lynn.
Through the Storm is published by Thomas Nelson, which means that a lot of people who pick it up are going to be interested in the faith angle. It’s not fair, but when a person whose fame comes from the mainstream, secular media finds a Christian venue for bringing her message, some of us expect to see evidence of credibility. This faith-cred can be communicated a lot of different ways, and while it’s not the most important thing in a biography like this, it is important to me. Up until this last section of the book, Spears seems to know the right catchphrases and even quotes a few verses, but no more than anyone growing up in a small Bible-belt community would pick up automatically. Near the end of the book, as Spears is making herself the most vulnerable, her sincerity convinces me that this is a traveler on the same journey as me, as when she admits, “I must have felt that it would be hypocritical of me to have a huge fight with their daddy the night before, and then talk about how good the Lord is the next day. I was wrong. The Lord’s mercies are new every morning.”
A note must be made about the book’s sloppy editing. I understand that maintaining the author’s voice is critical in an autobiography, but standards still need to be observed, and there are too many photos captioned with “Britney and I at the park,” or “Britney, Jamie Lynn, and I on vacation.” There are a few too many sentences beginning with conjunctions, and a few too many places where subjects and verbs don’t agree. Christian audiences are notoriously forgiving in the absence of technical excellence, as long as the sincerity of the message comes through, but although sincerity is definitely this book’s strength, it should never be an excuse. If a story is worth telling, it is worth telling correctly.
Through the Storm is a flawed narrative and at times difficult to get through, but the uniqueness of Lynne Spears’s story combined with the sincerity with which she tells it is enough to recommend it, especially to those with an interest in Britney Spears and Jamie Lynn Spears who would like an angle different from the one provided on television gossip programs. It won’t engage everyone who picks it up, but it will find a sympathetic and interested audience.
2009-07-06 » me