Mary Karr’s courageous, enthralling memoir Lit chronicles in unsparing detail her struggle to accept her addiction to alcohol and her truly inspiring resurrection. But like her other best-selling memoir, The Liar’s Club, Karr expertly avoids treading into maudlin, movie-of-the-week territory. That’s because of her keen eye for detail, sharp wit, and expertly-written sentences - all of which sparkle like diamonds in Karr’s no-nonsense performance of her own carefully-chosen words.
Hearing an author read her work always adds a special thrill to the book, especially in this case. Karr is not just writing about a crucial time in her life, a time when she found her voice as a writer, got married, started a family, and everything seemed to be going her way…until her life unraveled. In Lit, Karr confides her inner-most thoughts and fears about actions and events most people would probably never confess to their parish priest. That might explain why her voice sometimes sounds annoyed or irritated. It’s like she can’t believe she actually did the things she did, looking back now as someone sober and stable.
Credit Karr for also dispelling the myth perpetuated by many mainstream movies (sorry, Crazy Heart) that most addicts magically achieve sobriety and never look back. Karr recounts with rigorous honesty one relapse after another and her serious suicidal thoughts after being sober for months and winning a prestigious literary prize. It sounds illogical, but, as Karr explains, “If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling.” Reading lines like this, Karr reveals a sweet, tender side, often concealed beneath her brassy, Texas twang.
But no matter the tone, Karr’s pitch-perfect choice of words and her sharpshooter’s eye for detail will dazzle anyone who appreciates the fine art of outstanding writing. Karr’s sure-handed voice both literally and figuratively enables Lit to transcend the factual boundaries of confessional memoirs and enter the pantheon of first-class literature. Thank you, Mary Karr, for having the courage and the craft to share with us your truly inspiring story, one spectacular sentence at a time. Ken Ross