Tuesday November 10th, 2009

Lit by Mary Karr

mary-karr-litThe territory covered in poet Karr’s third memoir — after the mega-seller The Liars’ Club and its follow-up, Cherry — is summarized by Beth Greenfield in Time Out New York: “Here, she guides us through her college years as an insecure, budding poet, and then into her doomed-from-the-start marriage to a blue-blood writer who refuses, no matter how broke they get, to dip into his family’s wealth. Shortly after they have a son together, Karr descends into serious alcoholism, and the family begins its slow but certain splintering.” Greenfield says Lit is a “testament to [Karr’s] staggering ability to write about her family with range and honesty.” In the Times, Michiko Kakutani offers nearly unqualified praise, even channeling her inner cowgirl (you know she’s in there) to say that Lit “lassos you, hogties your emotions and won’t let you go.” Kakutani isn’t thrilled by sections dealing with Karr’s ex-husband, but judges that otherwise “the book is every bit as absorbing as Ms. Karr’s devastating 1995 memoir, The Liars’ Club, which secured her place on the literary map.”

At the Barnes & Noble Review, Melissa Pierson directly thanks Karr for her work, and compares the author to a “fine chef.” But she notes disappointment with Karr’s treatment of her religious conversion, saying that “the opportunity [to write about this experience] comes at the cost of the high luster to which she customarily polishes her prose.” Greenfield agrees, writing, “[Karr] is clearly self-conscious about her embracing of religion, [and] she couldn’t quite keep that part of the tale—approximately the last third of the book—from becoming a bit dowdy and plodding.” But the thumbs are mostly up for a memoirist with a strong voice who isn’t simply an exhibitionist. As Kakutani writes, “[Karr’s work] demonstrates that candor and self-revelation only become literature when they are delivered with hard-earned craft, that the exposed life is not the same as the examined one.”

Lit by Mary Karr
Harper, 400 pp., $25.99