Mary Karr’s soul

I just finished reading Mary Karr’s Lit.

It’s not out till November, but I was able to get a copy when I went to Book Expo in June. I also had the opportunity to hear Karr speak, and as always she was charming and funny, a great story-teller.

Karr is one of my favorite memoirists. I read The Liars’ Club back in a nonfiction writing class a couple of years ago. It details her crazy, sometimes violent childhood in Texas with charismatic but alcoholic parents. I’ve yet to read Cherry, which is about her adolescence.

Lit is the third in the triptych of “Mary-laying-her-soul-bare,” and tells of her struggles with depression and addiction. It’s interesting to compare The Liars’ Club with Lit – while the former is purely a story, the latter is more like the autobiography of a famous person. It’s more episodic than The Liars’ Club, which to me is a perfect jewel (maybe a little dusty with Texas dirt), and it’s almost like she’s writing knowing all these people are reading it, not just her friends and family, but famous people as well, like Tobias Wolff, who was her mentor back in the day.

The beginning of the book is sort of all over the place – leaving home, meeting her future husband, meeting his uptight, blue blood family, so unlike her own – but when she starts writing about her recovery is when it gets really interesting. It’s heartbreaking, but I can’t look away, like a good episode Intervention. And her time in a psych ward is like a 40-something Girl Interrupted: at first the women seem cool, but then slowly cracks in the foundation start to surface.

Also fascinating is seeing these famous literary people “in action.” Aside from Tobias Wolff, there’s a troubled young man named David in Karr’s recovery group, also a writer and “boy genius,” never without bandanna and work boots, and with whom she has a tumultuous affair. Can you guess who that is? Why yes, it’s David Foster Wallace. At first I thought it wasn’t because I didn’t know he had had problems with drugs (mental illness yes), but I saw in Wikipedia that Karr and Foster Wallace dated back in the ‘90s. He was so private. I think this is the first glance I’ve seen into his personal life.

Anyway this is not a post about David Foster Wallace. I think anyone would enjoy Lit. Like I said Karr’s a great storyteller and the drug/depression/recovery stuff really draws you in, but maybe it’s not as “literary” as The Liars’ Club. The Liars’ Club is what you’d read if you’re studying how to write a great memoir; Lit is if you love Mary Karr. She probably doesn’t give a hoot either way.


  1. I’m so excited for this book to come out. I love Karr’s work. I’m particularly fond of her poetry.

  2. […] Here’s my review, if you’re interested. Click here to cancel reply. […]