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Cherry: A Memoir Hardcover – September 25, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0670892747 ISBN-10: 0670892742 Edition: First Edition

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Editorial Reviews Review

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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (September 25, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670892742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670892747
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Mary Karr's first memoir, The Liar's Club, kick-started a memoir revolution and won nonfiction prizes from PEN and the Texas Institute of Letters. Also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, it rode high on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year, becoming an annual "best book" there and for The New Yorker, People, and Time. Recently Entertainment Weekly rated it number four in the top one hundred books of the past twenty-five years. Her second memoir, Cherry, which was excerpted in The New Yorker, also hit bestseller and "notable book" lists at the New York Times and dozens of other papers nationwide. Her most recent book in this autobiographical series, Lit: A Memoir, is the story of her alcoholism, recovery, and conversion to Catholicism. A Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, Karr has won Pushcart Prizes for both verse and essays. Other grants include the Whiting Award and Radcliffe's Bunting Fellowship. She is the Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University.

Customer Reviews

This book almost seemed a little too far-fetched.
In any case, the book is a much more difficult read than The Liar's Club, and I would definitely recommend that book before dipping your toes into this one.
I would have read a hundred pages of the phone book if I thought something like that was waiting at the end.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Mary Karr is a fine writer. When I read her memoir, "The Liar's
Club" about her rough and tumble childhood in a working class
Texas town, I loved every word. That's why I was so anxious to read
this sequel, which deals with her adolescence. There are definitely
some differences between the two books, but I wasn't
The voice of the young Mary Karr comes through loud
and clear. It's honest and foul-mouthed and disrespectful. It's a
sharp-tongued blade that dares to illuminate the angst of adolescence
with a hard-edged sense of humor. And yet it brings the bittersweet
sadness of disappointments and awakenings to the page. The reader
cannot help but love her.
This book tells her story from age 11
through 17. It's about her friendships and boyfriends and coming of
age. As it takes place in the 1970s, there are a lot of drugs. Mary
is sent to the principal's office for not wearing a bra. Mary hangs
out with long-haired surfers and does drugs. Mary gets arrested.
Mary's sister takes a different path than Mary.
In this book, Mary's
parents take a back seat to the peer group. The story of their
tumultuous marriage, psychological breakdowns and heavy drinking has
been explored in "The Liar's Club". By this book their
eccentricities and foibles are already accepted as givens. Again,
their love shines through.
I'm glad that Ms. Karr decided to
continue her story. It might have been a little more episodic than
the first book and the events not as traumatic. But the strength of
her writing is not in the events, but in her view of them. And that
is why I enjoyed this book so much.
The book ends when Mary is 17.
Hopefully, they'll be yet another book that will follow her through
the years.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Slokes VINE VOICE on May 5, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What does Mary Karr have left to prove? She already wrote the definitive memoir of a child's life in an East Texas hellhole, "The Liars' Club," which as a first-person narrative remains better than anything I've ever come across. Why risk another trip to the well? Can you exceed expectations when so many of them, like mine, are off the charts?

I'm in a funny position writing this, because I expected to come here and write about my disappointment with "Cherry," why it wasn't up to par with "Liars' Club." But reading all the one- and two-star reviews, some of which raise valid points, others of which are just all wet, I feel a little more protective about what I just read.

No, it's not as involving as "Liars' Club." Karr isn't the passive youngster anymore, and she takes on a wider swath of her life, from just before sixth grade all the way up through high school, meaning there isn't the concentration of time that worked with "Liars' Club." Our narrator is changing this time, and quickly.

More problematic, there is Karr's use of the second-person singular for the bulk of the book, describing her actions as if you are her. It doesn't work, feeling arch and odd instead of inclusive. Karr's budding sensibilities as a poet also come into play, with the help of a friend suspiciously named Meredith Bright, and you either will identify with their precocious conversations on absurdist theater or, like me, feel distanced by it. But it's her life, and she should tell it as it is.

The best part of the book is its first third, with its account of elementary and junior high school life. Karr's sharp eye for detail and her fluidity with language, so stunning in "Liars' Club," doesn't fail her here.
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49 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Michael K. McKeon on October 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"The Liars' Club" is such a beautiful, touching, and profound memoir that it takes your breath away. Clearly, such a work is a hard "act" to follow. Unfortunately, this has been represented as a sequel to "The Liars' Club" setting the expectations bar very high. While this book is ok, it comes as a disappointment in light of the expectations that have been established by the hype.
First, it is important to note that this really isn't a sequel. "The Liars' Club" was a poignant description of her parents tumultuous marriage as viewed through the eyes of a child, and a heart wrenching tribute to her father. Her parents are decidedly in the background in "Cherry" with her father being no more than a footnote. However, Karr's mother plays a sympathetic supporting role as a farsighted, sensitive and progressive, albeit eccentric, mother for an adolescent girl.
Unlike her former memoir, "Cherry" is primarily about Mary Karr and about her angst as a teenager and her distinctive transformation as an adolescent in light of a highly untraditional and unorthodox upbringing in a decidedly traditional blue collar town. I found Karr's depiction of the town's relative tolerance of individual idiosyncracies particularly gratifying in light of the erroneous stereotypes often attributed to working class communities and Texas as a whole.
Karr offers important, albeit subtle, socioeconomic observations on the disenfranchisement of the working class, particularly in light of the disillusionment and subsequent changes in social mores which arose during the Vietnam War era (though those social structures were more important to the middle class as Karr's representation of the working class suggests).
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