Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: Lit, by Mary Karr

I almost didn't pick this one up. It came out of a couple of years ago and I had read all the rave reviews. I love a good memoir, they're pretty much all I read. But, knowing this one chronicled the author's up and down battle with alcoholism, it seemed a bit too much of a downer to be considered leisure reading.

Lit is actually Mary Karr's third memoir. She's previously penned the autobiographical The Liars' Club and Cherry. Both, also well-reviewed. I'd heard of them all, she made alot of money on them,  and "rah rah" to Mary Karr.  I'm not one to be interested in best sellers (especially ones described as "gripping" and "searing") solely for the hip cred.  Gripping/searing books and movies usually end up being the ones that just haunt or depress you.  But, I was fresh out of reading material and standing in the much-too-tiny book aisle at the local Target. It slowly lured me to its shelf and I figured, "Eh, It's out on cheap paperback now. I'll give it a whirl."

I'd pick it up and put it down alot in the next month. Ms. Karr, also being a poet, would sometimes lose me in the earlier chapters. I have simple needs. I like quotation marks around conversations so I know when they're happening. I like being painted a descriptive portrait but don't need the frou-frou that some authors try to sneak in. Sooner than later, though, either I found my stride with her writing style, or her writing style loosened up along the way. I began to hear her voice which, to me, sounded like a cross between Carrie Fisher and Holly Hunter's. (And, I picture that imagined gravely voice laughing haughtily at me right now. "Ha ha. The amateur little blogger thinks she's tough enough to criticize me while hiding out in the comfort of her parents' home?" She's also flicking gold coins at my head while saying this to add further contrast to the worth of my opinion. "I said it's probably just me, not you Ms. Karr!" I squeak back.  My voice sounding more of frightened rat terrier.)

The more sober she became in print, the more alive her voice sounded and the more complicated her story became. I was hooked quicker than... (well, considering the subject matter, I'll let that analogy hang.)  I would literally growl when my lunch hour would end too soon because I always wanted to squeeze in just one more chapter! There's a certain kind of sass, sarcasm and (I'm trying to find a synonym in the thesaurus for "ballsiness", but its denying that word exists) that certain women possess that seems to draw my ear. Mary Karr has that quality. A straight-shooter.

It's refreshing to know exactly how she felt at every exact moment in her journey (frazzled and self-doubting was usually that feeling.  Only, without sounding like a whiny chick!) And, there's a certain panache in being able to say something profound or poetic while littering the paragraph with cursing. That is a gift I do not possess. A well-placed cuss word in anger can be effective, but that's the extent of my personal habit. Some have the ability to still sound intelligent in the midst of crassness yet somehow not offend. This she does well. I'm not saying it's a gift, but it's her voice! That's how she sounds and its okay.

That's startlingly even how she sounds in her early prayer life! A surprising turn I didn't see this story taking.  But, I'm sure any God who knows the innermost parts of the human soul welcomes being cursed over being disregarded.  He's wise enough to know that that's when the light turns on.  He hears "grumble grumble grumble" and says, "Oh there's my Mary! She finally came calling!"

I didn't see that sort of spiritual twist coming but, there she suddenly was, cursing and praying.  Her voyage from traumatized youth to well educated and self-righteous to addicted and agnostic to reluctant believer crept up on me like a sneaky street missionary.  I was always curious at how that transformation happens in one's adult years. Being a believer since childhood, I always feared I might not have chosen that path on my own as an adult if I hadn't had that instilled in my youth. ("Oh no, she's talking about God again!" Oh, shush.) But, the author describes her slowly unwinding revelation in such a way that is not preachy at all. An unfolding faith in God alarmed even herself since faith was always a joke to her. A beautiful, sometimes frustrating, unfolding nonetheless.  And, being on the outside, I still got it!

I'm so glad I stuck with this one and finished it out. It only got better as I progressed. And, the hilarious family characters that came up along the way only interest me more to go back and pick up her earlier two works.  I want to explore that nutty upbringing of hers more thoroughly.

So, my thumbs are up in the air with this one. It was a life worth getting to know and it reminded me how much better a true story stands up against even the best-selling fiction.

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