Bookmarks Issue: 
Mary Karr

A Memoir

A-LitThe Liar's Club (1995) chronicles acclaimed memoirist and poet Mary Karr's turbulent, neglected Texas childhood; Cherry (2000) recounts her equally troubled adolescence. Lit is the third memoir in this loose biographical trilogy.

The Story: "Any way I tell this story is a lie," says Karr, who first told of her hardscrabble life with psychotic, abusive parents in The Liar's Club. But Lit, like her previous memoirs, contains subjective--and wholly convincing--details of her struggles and triumphs while acknowledging their memory-fueled inspiration. After leaving small-town Texas and a college degree for the California coast, Karr returns East to attend a graduate program, marries a blue blood poet, defines her writing career, and becomes a mother. But as Karr descends into suicidal alcoholism, she hits rock bottom. As she attempts to purge her demons and reconcile her past, present, and future, redemption comes in the form of AA, Catholicism, and, ultimately, the love for her family.
Harper. 386 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780060596989

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Although unfortunate for Karr, her lapses in prudence make for juicy reading--burn-the-meat-loaf kind of reading--because even though her trajectory is heartbreaking, her recollection of it is not at all sentimental. ... Karr is no moral heroine, no poster child for Catholicism, but in the end, what saves her is her spirituality, a surrendering to something more powerful than herself." Melanie Gideon

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"As she tells the story of her descent from the occasional binge to daily degradation, Karr's linguistic control allows her to write the well-worn alcoholic narrative anew. ... Ultimately, Lit reminds us not only how compelling personal stories can be, but how, in the hands of a master, they can transmute into the highest art." Rebecca Steinitz

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"The triple meaning of Mary Karr's memoir title--‘lit,' short for literature; ‘lit,' slang for drunk; and ‘lit' as in lit from within by a spiritual glow--tells you all the ground that's covered in this radiant, rueful, rip-roaring book. ... Inspirational? Yes, if your notion of inspiration can include such vinegary bits as Karr's Christmas wish list: ‘This year I've asked for a crock pot, but I secretly long for a Smith & Wesson.'" Ken Tucker

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Karr could tell you what's on her grocery list, and its humor would make you bust a gut, its unexpected insights would make you think and her pitch-perfect command of our American vernacular might even take your breath away. ... Ultimately, the most moving, illuminating moments of love and reconciliation come from family." Samantha Dunn

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Karr] has written a book that lassos you, hogties your emotions and won't let you go. It's a memoir that traces the author's descent into alcoholism and her conflicted, piecemeal return from that numb hell--a memoir that explores the subjectivity of memory even as it chronicles with searching intelligence, humor and grace the author's slow, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes painful discovery of her vocation and her voice as a poet and writer." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Reviewers agreed that while Karr's memoir could have succumbed to the pitfalls of the addiction-recovery memoir, it rises above the genre. Juicy, evocative, confessional, poetic, and often darkly humorous, Lit recounts Karr's dark past in an intimate, easy style. While critics considered Lit a seamless addition to her previous memoirs, some expressed surprise that it takes a religious turn. A few also commented that the memoir is tamer and less dramatic than Liar's Club and that it contains some abstract sections about Karr's relationships. But in the end, Karr--one of our finest memoirists--remains "unswerving in her determination to face the past and, if possible, transcend it" (San Francisco Chronicle).