Wednesday, July 07, 2010


I just finished reading Lit by Mary Karr, a memoir about her adult life, past The Liar's Club, her first memoir and one that helped kick off the current memoir genre popularity. That memoir was about her terrifying childhood and difficult mother. This one is about her college, marriage, alcoholism, recovery and discovery of faith - as well as a relationship to her mother, which is the undercurrent of the book.

It's a tall order, now that I think about it. Finishing it I realize it spans about twenty years, if not more. The uniqueness in this, I suppose, reading her other book, is that this book - while still having certainly enough drama in it - is about the legacy of the pain. It's clear she had to deal with it while writing about it, but is honest enough to not pretend as if that makes everything okay. She still has to live with who she is. The way she does that, or figures out how to do that, is the meat of the book. She's eloquent and simple when walking through her recovery, even her conversion. The writing on sobriety is great, and you see why she's walking the road she's on, even though at times it's not at all a comfort.

It's a big book. I definitely felt her poetry in her writing, sometimes to its detriment, but not for most of it. Only a couple of times did I feel like her Writing was getting in the way of her writing - by that I mean her crafting of words was so enjoyable to her that I lost what was being said. It can be a danger - I didn't finish Rick Bragg's "All over but the shouting" because of it - but that's my own pet peeve. I'm sure some people love it. Mostly, though, her poetic language serves her well - to clarify who she is and to specify her feeling - her poetic language makes her feelings more specific, which is the whole point.

If I could give you plot points I would probably have a more eloquent review here, but I'm loath to do that. The beauty of this book is in the journey, and it's a hard-earned beautiful journey. Her gift is in telling her story so well - with enough self-knowledge to keep her searching for more, but not an over-abundance that keeps her at a remove. She's super-smart, that's clear, and funny. But she isn't living as an analyst by any means.

I was also struck how much she respects the people in her book. It's clear she's very respectful of her ex-husband and her part in their relationship; she resists the temptation to demonize him. Or anyone. That may be the key feature in her recovery that is so apparent - her compassion. She resists demonizing almost anyone, and everyone comes across as wonderfully human. That's an accomplishment, and certainly for a memoirist who controls how we see everyone. I most admire the end of the book. There's a moment when it could be easily warmly wrapped up - almost a Hollywood ending. Life's not that simple, though. I'm sure she could have ended it that way without bending any truth, but by not doing that the ending felt earned, which I think is much harder to achieve.

I won't give away anything, I would just say read it. It's a broad book about a specific life, and that's a beautiful thing.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I agree completely. And I wasn't a big fan of the first one --