I’ve only just caught on to the fact that for someone like myself who devours memoirs avidly, it’s a bit odd not to have read Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club, a dysfunctional-childhood tale that many people credit with having kicked off the current explosion in tell-all personal memoirs. I’m not sure how I missed it — I have heard of it, just never read it — or her follow-up book about adolescence, Cherry. Somehow, the book I was moved to finally pick up and read (and I mean “pick up” in the sense of “pick it up in the bookstore, then go home and download it for the e-reader”) by Mary Karr was the third in her series of memoirs, Lit.
There’s no problem jumping in with book three, because Karr gives plenty of background about her early life. Although she’s in her late teens and about to start college when the book opens, her traumatic upbringing as the child of two alcoholics is an ever-present backdrop to the story of her education, her marriage, the birth of her son, her struggles as a writer, and her own (almost inevitable, it feels) decline into alcoholism.
It’s a devastating story, but it’s told with wit and disarming honesty. And it features not just survival, courage and hope, but also faith, as Karr becomes an unlikely convert to Catholicism after she quits drinking and her marriage falls apart (yes, in that order). It also includes the deaths of both Karr’s parents, and her own attempts to make peace with these two people she loves, who scarred her so badly in their attempts to raise her. Heartbreaking in places and beautifully told, Lit is a memoir to remember.