As a girl idling her way through long, toxically boring summer afternoons in Leechfield, Texas, Mary Karr dreamed up an unusual career for herself, "to write one-half poetry and one-half autobiography." She has since done both, and even when she's recounting a dirty joke, she can't help but employ a poet's precise and musical vision. Her first memoir, The Liar's Club
, was as searing a chronicle of family life as can be imagined--tough, funny, and crackling with sorrow and wit. Against all odds, its sequel doesn't disappoint. Cherry
finds the teenage Mary still marooned in a family whose behavior ranges from charmingly eccentric to dangerously crazy. (This, for instance, is the Karr version of a note from home: "Lecia Karr's leprosy kicked in, and I had to wrap her limbs in balm and hyssop. Please excuse her.") But here the focus has shifted to Mary herself, furiously engaged in pissing off authority at every turn: flouting the dress code, dropping acid, running from the cops, falling in love.
First love, you may say, heart sinking in chest: what more can possibly be said about such a subject? Actually, a great deal. To read Cherry is to realize how rare it is to find a teenage girl portrayed on her own terms. As a chronicle of female adolescence with all its longings, fantasies, cruelties, and fears, Karr's memoir goes darker and deeper than any book in which the protagonist doesn't end up dead. She turns a savage eye on her own hypocrisies and failings, and we like her all the more for them. We even end up fond of Leechfield, easily the toughest, smelliest, nastiest little burg ever to appear between the covers of a book--"a town too ugly not to love," her father called it in The Liar's Club. Growing up in such a place is necessarily about getting the hell out, but it's also about inventing a new identity with which to make your escape. That's the blessing Karr's wise friend Meredith bestows after a particularly harrowing (and harrowingly funny) acid trip: "I see big adventures for Mary. Big adventures, long roads, great oceans: same self." Cherry is the story of how Karr begins to acquire that self, however fumblingly--a big adventure for Mary, as it is for all of us, and one we never finish as long as we live. Perhaps that's the book's greatest pleasure of all: it hints there's more to come. --Mary Park
From Publishers Weekly
Readers seduced by Karr's canny memoir of a childhood spent under the spell of a volatile, defiantly loving family in the Liar's Club can look forward to more exquisite writing in this sequel focusing on her adolescence in a dusty Texas town. Karr struggles as the talented child of a sullen, dismissive father and an ethereal, unstable mother who studies art and disappears from time to time, functioning more as an ally than as a mother to young Mary, who she encourages to be sexually active. When Mary is locked up in a drug raid, her mother rescues her by charming the judge, an old admirer. Writing in the second person, Karr recounts with disarming immediacy her tenuous childhood friendships, her rocky move into adolescence and sexual experimentation (she describes teenage kisses as "delicate as origami in their folds and bendings"); her troubles with school authority and her early escape into books and language. In one funny and poignant episode, Mary despairs over her dysfunctional family life in a dull town and, influence by the literature she is reading, makes a half-hearted attempt at suicide, before she resolves to live "as long as there are plums to eat and somebody - anybody who gives enough of a damn to haul them for you." Moving effortlessly from breathtaking to heart stabbing to laugh out loud raucous, the precision and sheer beauty of Karr's writing remains astounding. (Oct.)
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