Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lit by Mary Karr

If I could write like Mary Karr I’d be thin and rich, my husband would like to travel, my kids would lead charmed lives, my friends would be legion, and the world would be at peace.  I grew up poor-ish in Texas like Mary. My mom read a lot and was into intellectualism like Mary’s. So why don’t life-altering phrases swirl out of my head like exotic, scarfed dancers?

I guess I just didn’t lead a tortured enough life. My mom wasn’t an alcoholic, semi-psycho who wielded guns and knives, and quoted Shakespeare and Dostoevsky. I wasn’t hospitalized for depression and substance abuse, nor did I find God through AA. OK, maybe I’ll just have to settle for pudgy and getting by, a husband that I wouldn’t trade for, an amazing bunch of kids and grandkids, the best friends in the world and a chaotic world that’s really better than it sometimes seems.

If you read Mary Karr’s other two books, The Liars Club and Cherry, you know she can write, but in Lit, she mines her history of substance abuse and mental illness to tell a story that meanders in and out of horrifying, hilarious and honor, all the while making it feel like an endless Las Vegas buffet. I remember loving The Liars Club, but I don't remember grieving over finishing the book, the way I did Lit.

If you read Lit, and I hope you do, give yourself plenty of time as you’ll find yourself re-reading and pondering her head-thumping statements, i.e., the melting ice floe of my marriage, my true self, crouched in terror in the back of my scull, outlaw ethos that appeals to me, a brick I broke my brain on.

The book jacket says that in Lit, Mary was learning to write by learning to live, and as we all know, life is the greatest teacher, so I guess I’ll just keep on living and learning. Read Lit. It will enrich your soul.

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