Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lit (by Mary Karr)

This is the third memoir by Mary Karr, author of The Liars' Club, which is only the best literary memoir of all time, that's all. This book has been on my to-read shelf forever--I think I got it for Christmas in 2010. But my friend Chris inspired me with his "shelf-cleaning tour" so I cracked this one open. It's been a nice read-a-few-chapters-before-bed book.

It's hard not to compare this book to The Liars' Club, which as I said is genius, or her second memoir Cherry, which didn't live up to it. It could just be my expectations placing Lit somewhere in the middle. The subject matter is extremely interesting: her alcoholism and her sobriety, marriage and divorce, motherhood and David Foster Wallace, failure and her rise to literary fame. And she's obviously an amazing writer. But I feel like Lit is ultimately flawed.

One problem is that she doesn't dive that deeply into her relationship with her husband. I don't quite understand him as a character, I don't understand why she hung on so long, I don't understand his reactions (or non-reactions) to her drinking and sobriety. I was waiting for a real confrontation or catharsis that never happened. I get the sense (from the intro) that she is protecting him, but as a result, that relationship isn't compelling to read about.

I also feel like she doesn't go quite in-depth enough about recovery or about Catholicism, which are two major forces in the book. She touches on interesting issues about sobriety and faith, various relationships in her life, but I don't know, I kept wanting more to chew on. Probably the most vividly drawn character here is her mother, and her relationship after a childhood of abuse. (Which is incredibly well-drawn.) But it's hard to say what the focus of this book is--it seems like a string of vaguely chronological memories, not all of which contribute to an overall narrative.

I'm glad I read it, because it's impossible for a book by Mary Karr to be anything other than well-written. But I didn't love it.



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