Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Liar's Club - Mary Karr (audio)


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


21 comments:

Melody said...

I think one reason why I rarely read memoirs is because they are true, sad stories. Still, some of them make an inspiring read though.

JoAnn said...

You've gotten through so many audios lately. I feel like I've been listening to Let The Great World Spin forever! I'm one of the few people that hated The Glass Castle so, even though I've been thinking of reading this one, it may not be for me.

Kaye said...

Memoirs and I don't play well together it seems. There's a lot of hype about a book, I read it and am ultimately bored. Once in a blue moon a good one comes along. With your stellar review, I might just try this one. Maybe.

caite said...

I have to say, I just don't see the point of one more of these memoirs. Perhaps it is helpful to the author to write this stuff and get it out there and perhaps if you take it on it's own, it may be a well written, even interesting story.

but...then you see dysfunctional memoir after dysfunctional memoir...I am sorry but I just don't want to hear it all again.

But hey, glad you liked it!

Beth F said...

I've been curious about this one. I'll just pass. I'm not a huge fan of this type of memoir in the first place.

bermudaonion said...

I am a memoir junkie, so I'd probably like this. I bought Lit recently and now I'm wondering if I should read Karr's books in order.

Molly said...

Sandy - I just love your writing style! You get right to the heart of the matter with the perfect combination of honesty and humor.

Reading your reviews make my day :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Sounds depressing! Although I suppose if your life is all sunny, what is there to talk about for a memoir?

Julie P. said...

I have LIT sitting her just waiting for me. I can't wait to read it because I have only heard amazing things about it!

The Bumbles said...

I love memoirs. Even the sad/troubling ones. No one's life is exactly the same as another's. And even when there is a similar vein - everyone responds to situations in different ways. Take "A Million Little Pieces" and "Dry" for example. Both were about addiction and treatment. Both were excellent. They were vastly different.

But they aren't all written well. And what resonates with you from one may not have quite the same impact with someone else - just as happens when reading fiction.

I admire those who are able to tell their stories without making me wish they would stop whining and feeling callous about it. I imagine listening to an audio memoir would effect me more than reading it - especially if the author themself was narrating. Then you'd get an even truer sense of their meaning.

Serena said...

great review...just love your take on this one...

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

Keep on going with the books because Lit is worth it. I didn't read the first two, just went straight into Lit (review coming next week) and the reason Lit works so very well is because of hope and redemption....I think you'll love that one.

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't read many memoirs - for some reason the don't really appeal to me. I have a couple in the TBR pile and hope to try The Glass Castle at some point. Hopefully they'll change my attitude to them.

Dar said...

I haven't heard of this one before. It sounds interesting although I think I'd prefer it on audio than in book form. Memoirs aren't always my favorite although I really liked The Glass Castle.

mylastread said...

I bought this book and it's been sitting in my apartment unread!! I am going to get to it....

mylastread said...

I posted a link on my blog post to link to this review of yours..

If you can, I would appreciate if you could go there and gives the star rating that this book deserves.

Thanks

Iliana said...

Great review, Sandy. It's been so long since I've read this one but I am pretty sure after I read this one I went off of memoirs for a long time. Just so depressing. I do have The Glass Castle waiting for me and I would like to get to that one sometime.

Anna said...

I'm really picky when it comes to memoirs. I read Cherry several years ago, and I honestly don't remember a thing about it. I had the opportunity to buy The Glass Castle at the library sale for 50 cents but I declined. Not sure if I should be upset or not. LOL

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Jenners said...

Interesting that "Lit" was one of EW's top nonfiction books of 2009. (I let my subscription lapse but now I wish I saw their book list for the year. I'll have to check the library.)

And from what I can tell, most people say Mary Karr's memoir kind of "reinvented" the memoir -- opening the doors for books like Walls. I don't know if that is true or not though.

I do agree with you ... Karr's story isn't as sympathetic as Walls -- partly due to their writing style.

Kathleen said...

I've got this one and Lit on my shelves waiting to be read. It sounds like a good one but I have to be in the right kind of mood to read such depressing things about people's childhoods and after James Frey I find myself being suspicious about the book if there is too much tragedy...cynical, I know!

Zibilee said...

I've heard of this book, but didn't have a clue as to what it was about. After reading your review, I think I will try to pick this one up. It sounds very interesting, and I like the fact that she doesn't wallow.