Have you heard of Mary Karr? While there are many authors out there who rose to stardom and then wrote their memoirs and tell-all’s, Mary Karr did the reverse — she wrote memoirs and became famous for them. If her name sounds familiar, it may be because you have read her well-known work about her dysfunctional Texas upbringing in Liar’s Club. This book also has a sequel Cherry, in which the author discusses her adolescence. I have not read either of these works and instead have chosen to read the third memoir Lit, which picks up where the other two books left off.
We meet Karr as a seventeen-year-old and at a crossroads in her life. She is working at a t-shirt factory in Texas, but she is itching to pack up and move away. Luckily for her, through university connections, she was able to make it out of her small Texas town and attend school in the Midwest. Although access to a university seemed like the golden ticket away from her small-town problems, Karr has a tough road ahead of her.
Following Karr on her journey, there are two main threads along which this memoir moves: 1. Karr’s alcohol abuse problem, and 2. Karr’s aspirations to become a writer. Through the memoir, we learn about the challenges the author has with the former and overcomes to pursue the latter. While this story, simply put, sounds rather mundane, please realize that Mary Karr is a famous memoirist for a reason — her writing is gooooood, and her memoirs have more plot and character than some novels.
“Searing…Lassos you, hogties your emotions, and won’t let you go.”
NEW YORK TIMES
Although Karr shows us throughout her journey that she aspired to be a famous poet, we know that her real talent lies in her ability to write about her own life. Karr’s writing is better than fiction. We get to know her as a struggling adult—seemingly unfiltered and with particular attention to her rough edges—and take interest in her relationships, career, and missteps along the way.
When writing about her alcoholism, Karr does not glamorize the experience. Instead Karr paints a striking portrait of how alcohol addiction became the bane of her father, mother, and herself in different, yet similarly tragic and sometimes fatal ways. On her path to recovery, Karr also speaks openly about the collapse of her marriage, AA meetings, and how spirituality saved her non-believing soul when it came to sobriety.
If a story filled with relationship drama and personal struggle appeals to you, then, consider reading Mary Karr, not just this memoir, but also its two predecessors.