Thursday, January 28, 2010
Memoirs can be a dicey business. It has almost become standard fare these days to find yourself slogging through tales of childhood abuse, molestation, alcoholism, and drug addiction...some true stories, and some fabricated. And for anyone who has read The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, the standard has been set for tell-all excellence. Mary Karr's name kept coming up though, and eventually I couldn't ignore it. Her latest release "Lit" was ranked as one of the top non-fiction books in 2009 by Entertainment Weekly. I soon learned that it was the third in a loosely-formed trilogy about the author's life. "The Liar's Club" focuses on Mary's childhood, "Cherry" on her adolescence, and "Lit" on her adult life. Far be it for me to read things out of order, so I ordered the first book on audio from the library.
There really are no surprises here - it is your garden variety dysfunction. Mary recounts her life, spent growing up in Texas with a brief stint in Colorado. Her parents both drink and fight, her mother just a few cards short of a full deck and prone to bouts of depression and psychosis. She fondly remembers her hapless, doting father spending countless hours at the lodge with a group of other petroleum factory workers, deemed The Liar's Club, drinking and telling tall tales, often with Mary in tow. When Mary's bad-natured grandmother is diagnosed with cancer and comes to live with them, the tide turns for the worse, which ultimately results in the equivalent of an implosion in the Karr family.
Mary also finds herself battling against a lifetime supply of unanswered questions regarding her mother's behavior, actions and secrets, always imagining that she was to blame somehow. I found it to be rewarding to witness Mary's eventual reconciliation with some of the demons which drug her down paths already traveled by her parents.
Mary uses level-headed, slightly dry-humored southern prose to lay out her life before her readers. Whether she is telling about being raped by a neighbor boy when she was 7, molested by a babysitter at 8, witnessing her mother making a bonfire out of family possessions, or digging food stamps out of the garbage in order to redeem them for a gift for her father, she never permits despair or martyrdom to consume her. She reports it all as matter-of-fact, with a touch of sardonic humor. Her voice is incredibly entertaining.
But compare this to The Glass Castle I must. While The Glass Castle inspired outrage as a reaction to the behaviour of Jeanette Walls' parents, I wasn't nearly as emotional with this memoir. The Liar's Club never found itself wallowing in self-pity, but there wasn't quite the wisp of hope I would've liked to see either. I guess understandably, Mary has two more books of crappy life experiences to share before she hoists herself out of the quagmire! (Which I will absolutely be reading in the near future.)
4 out of 5 stars