- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 31, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143035746
- ISBN-13: 978-0143035749
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (465 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Liars' Club: A Memoir Paperback – May 31, 2005
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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." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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. With an eye for detail like Dickens crossed with a sense of humor as constant as Twain's, Karr makes "The Liar's Club" the kind of book one can't just put down at the end of a chapter, however sleepy or battered by second-hand reality the reader might feel.
On telling about her grandmother's slow death from cancer, Karr is nothing if not succinct. "First they took off her toenail, then her toe, then her foot. Then they shot mustard gas through her leg till it was burnt black, then she screamed for six weeks nonstop. Then they took off her leg, and it was like a black stump laid on the pillow..."
So much for pathos, as she continues: "At the end of this report, [Karr's sister] Lecia and I would start scanning around whoever's kitchen it was for cookies or Kool-Aid. We knew with certain instinct that reporting on a dead grandma deserved some payoff."
She explains later that she wasn't so sorry to lose Grannie. The woman used a quirt on her hide and distended her mother's psyche to the point of breakdown. Though it's hard to say exactly. Karr doesn't give away much, but she offers this counterbalance to her tale of Grandma's ordeal: "Real suffering has a face and a smell. It lasts in its most intense form no matter what you drape over it. And it knows your name."
Anyone who's lost someone to cancer knows intimately what that means, and that's the heartbreak and the greatness of "The Liars' Club," a book that seems so amazingly knowing as it recounts Karr's firsthand experiences as a young girl. Her experiences are raw and miserable, to put it mildly, but she presents it in such a way to make it utterly compelling to the reader, yet endurable, too.
The book works on so many levels. I was left wondering about sister Lucia, a rock-steady character who often protects her younger sister, but whom Karr nevertheless savages throughout her narrative. Is she writing here as an adult, or channeling her younger self and some form of sibling rivalry? I also wondered about the title organization, a group of men with whom her father hangs out and tells tall tales. Whenever she describes a meeting, she slips from the past into the present tense for one of the few moments in the book. Is that a signal that the Liars' Club interludes are themselves tall tales by author Karr? Or is she telescoping her experience in those close quarters to give it the special verisimilitude that makes her relationship with her father so central to the story?
In one of these interludes, Karr ponders the nature of lying and how they reveal deeper secrets of the liar, that is to say, "how lies can tell you the truth." Certainly there's no earthly way of explaining her mother, an earthy Bohemian who takes to painting and drinking with equal fervor, feuding with her husband and taking advantage of a sudden inheritance Gloria Swanson-style. Any divorced father will find himself welling up with tears as he reads Karr's account of how he was separated and then reunited with his daughters.
There's nothing easy in this book, but so much to love. Everything good you've heard about this book is true. Now just go read it.
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.