Saturday, December 19, 2009

Review: The Liars' Club

Has there ever been a truly happy memoir of one’s childhood? Most seem to look back at the usually sad events of one’s early life with wit or nonchalance, as with Mary Karr’s first memoir, 1995’s The Liars’ Club. The overwhelmingly positive responses — including being named to the New York Times Book Review’s top ten books of 2009 — to her third, Lit, impelled me to start at the beginning. Her second, Cherry, was published in 2000.

The Liars’ Club is named for a group of her father’s friends, who spun tall tales while drinking beer when they weren’t working in Texas. But the name comes to include nearly everyone who is part of Karr’s childhood, from the mother who keeps hidden her former marriages, to her grandmother, dying of cancer, who wishes to erase the years of lying. Her older sister Lecia is her fellow traveler, and the two live briefly with their mother in Colorado after she divorces their father. But they return to Texas, to a town that is a producer of Agent Orange, and a black spot on the cancer frequency map.

It’s a tragic tale, filled with death and drinking and rape, but an eloquently told one. Karr is a poet, and her prose takes on a poetic lilt that occasionally betrays the gravity of the scenes she’s describing. This downplaying is expected; the elegance with which it is done is not.

With series and sequels I always take a break between volumes, not wanting them all to run together, and I will here as well. And I’ll likely have to — I had to wait several weeks for The Liars’ Club to arrive on the “C” hold shelf at the Mount Pleasant Library, and Lit hasn’t made a single appearance on the “New Arrivals” shelf.

1 comment:

  1. I read this so many years ago, and always go back to it every couple of years. I was a little disappointed with Cherry, but I'm eager for Lit to reach my country.