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The Liars' Club: A Memoir Paperback – May 1, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

In this funny, razor-edged memoir, Mary Karr, a prize-winning poet and critic, looks back at her upbringing in a swampy East Texas refinery town with a volatile, defiantly loving family. She recalls her painter mother, seven times married, whose outlaw spirit could tip into psychosis; a fist-swinging father who spun tales with his cronies--dubbed the Liars' Club; and a neighborhood rape when she was eight. An inheritance was squandered, endless bottles emptied, and guns leveled at the deserving and undeserving. With a raw authenticity stripped of self-pity and a poet's eye for the lyrical detail, Karr shows us a "terrific family of liars and drunks ... redeemed by a slow unearthing of truth."

From Publishers Weekly

Poet Karr's NBCC nominated memoir of her East Texas childhood is a blackly comic tale of a family prone to alcoholism, violence and insanity.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1 edition (November 19, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140179836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140179835
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (315 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,408 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

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

178 of 188 people found the following review helpful By Slokes VINE VOICE on January 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
Mary Karr had to go through hell so you could read a very cool book. That's one way to look at this opus, an exploration of the author's East Texas girlhood and the collapsing family situation she found herself confronted with.

The book starts with a mystery: Why are police being called to the scene of a young girl's bed? Why is a kindly doctor inspecting her body for "marks?" The books builds a mystery, then takes more than 150 pages bothering to solve it, but by that time you are hooked too deep into the rest of the story to care. You want to find out how the most screwed up family ever to reside in the Lone Star State managed to survive themselves, albeit barely.

While the author is a recognized poet and esteemed college professor, and "The Liars' Club" is widely praised among literary critics, those fearing some pointy-headed exercise in literati snobbery at the expense of slack-jawed Western yokels need not fear. Not that Karr doesn't get in some digs at the rustic Bible-thumpers responsible for so much of her upbringing, but her style of writing is much more akin to Stephen King than Margaret Mead, writing in a real-world way about actual experiences she underwent in a way that will make you feel you underwent them to, whatever your age, sex, or social background. She describes everything from hurricanes to rapes to a child's first gulp of sparkling alcohol with a "you-are-there" veracity that is almost frightening, and hard to pull away from. Only James Ellroy's "My Dark Places" and Mikal Gilmore's "Shot Through The Heart" hold a candle to this in my experience, and I've read a few.

The cruelest thing one has to report about this book is, however savage the author's experience, it never stops being so goddam funny.
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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 13, 1998
Format: Paperback
"The Liars Club" is one of the most touching and simultaneously disturbing books I've read in quite awhile. In an unforgettable series of memoirs, Mary Karr has succeeded in retelling the astonishing events of her past in an earnest, heartfelt manner. Through her thorough recount, she is able to deliver a compassionate, and at times alarming, description of what it's like to love and be loved, to lie and be lied to. Mary Karr's voice shines as she describes her childhood from the witty, honest view of a young girl. Virtually all of her enthralling recollections are immersed in a unique humor that makes this book hilarious in a backwards way: "Your mother's threat of homicide--however unlikely she tries to make it sound--will flat dampen down your spirits." By using the fiery, blunt style Mary Karr has chosen as her own, she is able to throw the reader into her memories with great intensity: "Mother is reaching over for the steering wheel, locking onto it with her knuckles tight. The car jumps to the side and skips up onto the sidewalk. She's trying to take us over the edge." It's these two driving forces, humor and sharp honesty, that keep the reader from putting this book down. "The Liars' Club" is a poignant story of an ordinary child living in an extraordinary world. Mary Karr's witty commentary and intimate analysis of such a remarkable life make this book a very worthwhile read. Her compelling story should be considered as reading material for anyone striving to understand the value of his or her childhood.
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95 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Winter Wright on December 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
A friend gave me this book, saying she had liked it but wasn't crazy about confessional memoirs.
The Liar's Club may fit that description, but don't be put off, because it's absolutely fantastic. Mary Karr's writing routinely verges on prose-poetry and is, despite its dark subject matter, funny enough to make you laugh out loud. Then, once you're laughing, she turns around and hits you with something so brutal that you're caught up short.
I did find myself wondering, as I'm sure others have, whether some embroidery may have been involved in the author's crystal-clear recollections of events long past. She appears to have kept copious journals, but still, you wonder how anyone could have gotten so much detail down with such precision, especially as a child.
Then again, maybe she's a hyper-sensitive person with a photographic memory. Ultimately I didn't care if parts of it were embellished a bit. She's such a good writer that if this depiction of events captures the truth of her childhood, more power to her. My main reaction was a weirdly worshipful desire to locate Ms. Karr and make her tell me more stories, the ones that didn't make it into this book. (Actually, I'd be surprised if this has not happened to her.)
This book pulls you in. It's funny, poignant, shocking, memorable. I give it five richly deserved stars.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Krista on November 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Mary Karr grew up in an ugly place, the refinery/swamp town of Port Arthur, Texas, and in an ugly situation, with a mentally unstable mother and a hot tempered, hard drinking father. Yet out of such ugliness, she extracted great beauty in order to write this dazzling memoir. Despite Karr's dysfunctional childhood, her writing is completely devoid of woe-is-me whining or psychobabble.
Karr has a gift for spinning a tale, perhaps inherited from her father or honed at gatherings of his friends in "The Liar's Club," a group that met to drink, play cards, and swap stories. And boy, the stories she tells! There's the stories about her mother's manic/pyschotic episodes, including one time when she set her children's belongings on fire, another time when she attempted to drive the family off a bridge, and a third time when she threatened her lazy husband with a gun. Karr also tells about her inconsistent relationship with her father, who suffered a difficult life but emerged, if not unscathed, then unbroken.
Most remarkable about the book, though, are not the amazing stories but the matter of fact, even at times hilarious tone in which they are told. The woman telling these stories is no victim; she is a survivor. A miserable childhood did not cause Mary Karr to surrender her spirit, but rather forged her in fire and made her stronger.
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