LIT: A Memoir Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
‘If you’d told me, even a year before I start taking my son to church regular, that I’d wind up whispering my sins in the confessional or on my knees saying the rosary, I would’ve laughed myself cockeyed. More likely pastime? Pole dancer. International spy. Drug mule. Assassin.’
Mary Karr’s prizewinning The Liars’ Club chronicled her hardscrabble Texas childhood and sparked a renaissance in memoir, cresting the New York Times best seller list for more than a year. Cherry, her ecstatically reviewed account of a psychedelic adolescence and a moving sexual coming-of-age story, followed it into best-sellerdom.
Now Lit answers the question asked by thousands of fans: How did Karr make it out of that toxic upbringing to tell her own tale?
Karr’s longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, blueblood poet who can quote Shakespeare by the yard produces a blond son they adore. But Karr can’t outrun her apocalyptic upbringing. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in ‘The Mental Marriott’ with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors awakens her to the possibility of joy again, and leads her to an unlikely faith. Not since St. Augustine cried, ‘Give me chastity, Lord – but not yet!’ has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity.
Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. This hotly anticipated sequel brings Karr’s story full circle; it will endure in the hearts of listeners alongside her influential and beloved earlier books. Simply put, it is a triumph.
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Tim Hawkins, the Christian stand up comedian, tells a joke about Church people. Adopting a hang dog expression he pretends to be the person in the pew listening to a powerful witness and he says: "This guy has a BEAUTIFUL witness... I have a terrible one... I wish I was addicted to crack...." His timing is perfect he adds a sarcastic and disappointed "THANKS God!"
Christians have had this (immature) reaction to the powerful conversion of others from the beginning, and we are all tempted to it, which is why Hawkins gets huge laughs with this schtick. Christ makes sure to include the older brother in the story of the prodigal son for a reason. He covers it too when he speaks about the workers in the field getting their daily wage at the end of the day.
Yet reminding yourself of those facts as you read doesn't silence the enemy. He tries to make you jealous. "I wish I was an alcoholic and divorced and only had one kid and taught literature at a fancy school after being locked in the looney bin for a while..... THANKS God!!"
To say Mary Karr is a good writer is a serious understatement. I rank her up there with Flannery O'Connor... almost. More on this later. I think this woman is an absolute genius. She uses words in ways most of us who do any writing, even meaningless stuff like our random thoughts on websites, can only dream of.
The book was very difficult for me to read. The story of her addictions is so painfully told, her relationships and the characters so vividly painted, that I just had to put it down to avoid becoming overwhelmed at points.
And there is the fact that this book reads like a confession. She holds absolutely nothing back. Mary Karr may be one of the most self-reflective writers I have read, and her self-knowledge is incredible. I really admire her ability to look in the mirror... and then write.
But it also made me mad. I mean, everyone will heap praise on this book and Mary Karr because she was on the sauce and has learned to be sober and be nice to people. But darn it, being Catholic is about WAY more than that, and she doesn't touch on any of it. This always makes me angry when I read these things. At least she doesn't go out on a limb to attack the Church that she just entered by denying all the Church's teachings like some recent "converts" have done. But it ticks me off nonetheless. What about the hard stuff? The stuff we always get thrown in our faces? I mean... I was never drunk (much) but throwing my contraceptives in the garbage wasn't easy... TALK TO ME. I am one of those idiots who actually believes ALL this stuff!!!
I mean Flannery O'Connor ran from NOTHING. Read her letters. Her theology is so deep and rich and CATHOLIC and her struggles so articulately communicated... I found myself saying "Mary Karr has the talent... GIVE ME MORE O'Connor!!!"
And that isn't fair, but I read this book while reading O'Connor's letters and the comparison was unavoidable (they ARE both southern in my defense) and it isn't fair to make my love for Catholic doctrine demand every other Catholic put that front and center too.
But... but... is she REALLY saying that she became Catholic because some people at Church were nice to her, and she prayed, and she doesn't mention dogma once except to say that it gets people excited?
Doesn't she realize that during lent when she had that waking vision of serpents at 3:00AM and that fact has RELEVANCE??? Its 3 AM!!! Or is she just assuming that those in the know will get it? (Christ died at 3PM and many many exorcists report the devil likes to operate on you when its 3 in the morning your time to mock God and Christ... laugh if you want... But exorcists say it and Mary Karr experienced it)
I know I'm a zealot... I know... I mean I read G.K. Chesterton and Flannery O'Connor, and Hillaire Belloc. I want my Catholicism on steroids, dogma and all, because I love it and think it true. So, I am not sure I can review this one fairly.
I can only say that it is a beautiful book, very well written, and beautifully told, and it won't get her in any trouble with anybody, because she doesn't go THERE.
And darn thats frustrating. But its a great book nonetheless.
In Lit, we pick up where Cherry left off, in her late adolescence, a crusty, naïve, and wandering girl in search of respectability when she's not numb from alcohol or some other drug. As she journeys almost by accident into her early literary and poet life, she marries a handsome patrician East Coast man whose family is old money ushering her into the world of upper class well-to-do, swigging hope to abandon her gritty Texas shame. Her father, whom she loved and adored, disappeared into the bottle, and her mother had tried to kill her children with a butcher knife in a psychotic fit.
Mary writes her adult self with the laconic wit she's known for, putting in parentheses the moments where even she can't bear to write flat-footed about her own ignorance, willful meanness, and ignorant wounds she inflicts on her husband and then her son, Dev, who's an appealing and significant force in the book. In fact, her prologue is written in the form of a letter to him.
She chronicles, lurches rather, into the deeper rings of hell of her alcoholism, seething with self-hatred. Even her stumbling into AA and furtive prayers are not enough to stop her determined self-destruction, leading her inevitably to the thought of suicide which scares her enough to get admitted to the "Mental Marriott," a place where many famous poets have been locked up--Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell, among others.
Mary's mother, finally sober after a lifetime of rollicking, psychotic drinking, is a curious yet lively character. The book moves through territory that is new to readers of Mary's previous work--how she became a published poet, her friendship with Tobias Wolff, and her eventual conversion to Catholicism. Particularly entertaining are her desperate attempts to learn to pray at first through clenched teeth while kneeling in front of a toilet, alternating prayers with curses, reluctant to accept the possibility of redemption. No matter what belief system one has, Mary makes it clear that her grudging nod to Christianity is no panacea nor is it a welcome or easy path. One day at a time, it's a path to some kind of inner peace.
One of the most moving passages is toward the end, a simple, direct conversation between Mary and her mother, where in a few sentences they meet eye to eye, apology to apology about their own humanness and their love. It is a heart-opening passage of mother and daughter facing each other in humility and truth.
Lit is a guide for memoir writers in making rib-aching confessions, how to write with poetry without gliding over the pebbles of reality that sting. It's also a bible of how to scrape tendrils of truth out of a lifetime of lies, and find yourself somewhat whole in the end, imperfect but still standing. This book lingers with you as you contemplate your own existence, and the road from darkness into light.
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This is a story of recovery and finding a higher power. More than that though, it was about forgiveness. Forgiving her mother (we met her in The Liar's Club and forgiving seemed a big ask!), and forgiving herself. She starts the book with her writing career and her beginnings as a poet, her love affair with her husband, and the drink. Then she sorts herself out in the way of detangling a rope left under a bench--one knot at a time.
I didn't expect to like this as much as I did or be moved by the poetry she shares. Such a heart-tugging story makes reminds me that being vulnerable in writing is not being weak.
“How much smaller the large places are once we're grown up when we have car keys and credit cards.”