Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr

I read The Liars’ Club ages ago and still consider it memorable.  The “shattered childhood” memoir genre really got jump-started with Mary Karr’s tales of grit and woe in small town working class Texas.  The book was a jaw-dropper then and spawned dozens of similar works in the aftermath. 

Karr’s focus in her newest book Lit  is her adulthood – the trials of reconciling her past with 1) her marriage to a scion of a blue blood family, 2) parenthood, 3) teaching at Harvard, 4) getting published, and 5) specifically, her long stretch with alcoholism.  That said, most memoirs about alcoholism are a dime a dozen.  What sets Lit apart is the amazing grittiness with which Mary Karr writes.  Her small town Texas roots are established early on and never leave the reader’s impressions, or hers for that matter (her mother is a constant voice throughout the book, almost a Greek chorus of her own, and Karr’s sister Lecia is prominent, too).  Karr lets fly her vulnerability, self-righteousness, and bitchiness on every page, and there were times when reading the book that I wished I could shake some sense into her.  But unabashedness is Karr’s forte, along with a relentless need for self-redemption, and that’s what keeps the book chugging along.  Lit  is a messier book than The Liars’ Club so reading it took some patience.  I’d also have edited it to be a little shorter, but that’s a minor detail. 

Lit is still very much worth the time.  I have read my share of memoir writing, and Karr continues to hold forth with the best of them.

Other books of note in this vein:

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

The Cracker Queen by Lauretta Hannon

Family Bible by Melissa Delbridge

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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