Sunday, December 21, 2014


I read Mary Karr's memoir, The Liar's Club, about a month after 9/11.  I remember this because I bought it in an airport to keep me occupied on my first flight after the horror.

It did keep me occupied.  Very good book.  I keep a list of books that I think are worth recommending and The Liar's Club is on it.    I can't remember much of the content other than her childhood was difficult; her parents more than just a little quirky and her parents' relationship more than just a little atypical.  When I found out that the author was a poet I was not surprised. More than the content I remember that she could create an image the way I think a poet does.

Karr wrote a second memoir called Cherry which I did not read, but when I was at a library book sale a few weeks back I spotted, Lit, the third memoir--about Karr's post high school years--and picked it up.

This one was not so extra.  Karr still writes well and sometimes you just shake your head at how she can make a scene so clear with language and metaphor.  But Lit did not seem to me to be consistently well written.  I got the sense at times that after the bonanza of The Liar's Club she realized that writing memoirs could support her poetry.  However, more than the style or writing, I found the content off-putting.

Lit begins with her journey to college; stops and starts there, goes onto her marriage, motherhood, bouts with alcoholism, and throughout, her journey toward God. The journey toward God part was foreshadowed nearly from the beginning.

Initially Karr depicts herself as more than just an atheist; but someone who considers the idea of a God absolutely ridiculous.  When attempting to recover from alcoholism she is told to believe in a higher power. She reacts then as if the counselors are suggesting that she believe in pelicans or cheese cake.  Yet the reader can sense that where we are heading is a realization that God is a superpower and it was praying that "saved a wretch like her."

I was not convinced she had been saved after finishing the book. I think the scars from having a wild mother and witnessing a crazy--if loving--parenthood are still in evidence.

Besides I am not taken by those who explain their irresponsible behavior--however self deprecatingly--as a function of some victimization.  Mary Karr's childhood was tougher than mine, but she has some real gifts.  One is that she writes well. I understand that this skill is something you need to hone and the industry involved is considerable. But she had the tools to start with. Second, she is a looker and that is a break she got that could not have hurt her along the way. Some of her college mentors and Cambridge friends were wonderfully supportive and loyal.  Perhaps she earned that, but not everybody has a Walt in their lives. Her first husband, while described as a bit of a cold fish, put up with some outrageous alcoholic behaviors and sort of seemed to me to be in love with Karr withal.  So, I found the book a bit too kvetchy.  She still can string together words --she can use slang and the king's English seamlessly in the same sentence.  Her ability to use yiddish expressions, for someone who I have to think did not hear a whole lot of yiddish growing up, is a reflection of something--my guess is that she both reads everything and can absorb all.  Another asset that gave her a leg up.

I could not sympathize with Mary Karr in Lit.  We have all had some bad breaks. Every single one of us can point to a deep bruise from parenting that we wish were different even if we were blessed with good souls as parents.  However deep the bruise, it does not justify irresponsibility.  And the just-you wait-you-will-see-that-praying-to-a-higher-being-will-be-your-salvation I could do without.  I pray in my own way and believe in my own way.  It won't, in and of itself, result in publishers/benefactors sending me money (as she intimates occurred when she was nearing rock bottom).

 I wouldn't be surprised if her next memoir is about how she realized that God was NOT the answer, but that romantic love is.

In sum, if you have not read The Liar's Club I suggest you go out and get it. Really excellent. But I cannot recommend this sequel with enthusiasm.

No comments:

Post a Comment