I am always curious about what type of life a person must lead in order to write a successful memoir. Should it be filled with both inordinate amounts of pain and triumph? Does it require at least one or two horrific incidents? Maybe it should be filled with positive observations from someone who has lived a less than positive life? All of these thoughts ran through my head when I picked up The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr.
Anyone who is familiar with my blog knows that I am an avid reader of fiction. When I took on the Cannonball Read I challenged myself to step outside of my reading comfort zone and explore more nonfiction. Luckily, my coworkers started a book swap that allowed me to really explore other types of literature. The first book I picked up was The Liars’ Club. Even though it was the 10th Anniversary edition, the cover was very simple and unassuming. It wasn’t intimidating and so I took it home to read. Aside from Running with Scissors, Kitchen Confidential, and that book by James Frey (which was probably only enjoyable because it was fictional – of course, some argue that Running with Scissors was just as exaggerated as Frey’s work), I had never actually read a true memoir.
You know how people always say things like, “I couldn’t put it down” or, “I was mesmerized by it” or, “It was haunting” when describing a book? Well, in this case, all of those cliches apply.
The Liars’ Club is Mary Karr’s recollection of her childhood growing up in rural Texas. As the youngest daughter of a good ole boy and an oft married and unstable mother, Mary weaves a memoir replete with angst, happiness, confusion, and acceptance.
I can’t decide what it was that captured me about this memoir. It could be the honest account of her memory versus what she was later told actually happened. Or, it could be the earnest way in which she embraces her family’s disfunction. But, maybe it is the way she describes the relationships between all of the various characters of her childhood.
On it’s face, The Liars’ Club is an account of a girl who was different from everyone around her, except her family. Mary’s father, a good ole boy by all accounts, was a manual laborer who took joy in the simple pleasures of telling whoppers to his friends, spoiling his 2 daughters when he could afford it, and loving his unfathomable wife.
Mary’s mother was a woman of many mysteries who chose to live her life in the open except when it came to discussing her past. She drank, smoked, cussed, and even tried to shoot a couple of husbands along the way.
In an unwavering voice that is both deliberate and sometimes detached, Mary Karr details the incidents of her childhood. She discusses the instability of her mother, her relationships with her sister and father, and the love that the family had for each other. She describes in unflinching prose, her sexual abuse at the hands of one of her mother’s “friends” during her parents’ separation. She invokes these memories from a distance that can only come from an adult’s recollection of a childhood that could have gone horribly wrong but, somehow, didn’t.
She convinces us to laugh at the way life serves up trauma and happiness with equal and unequal measure. And she does it without hesitation, guilt, or melodrama.
I would recommend this book to lovers of fiction and nonfiction. My only warning is to prepare yourself to be angry, outraged, and disturbed. But, only when you aren’t laughing your head off at the absurdity of the things life throws at us.