Lit: A Memoir

Overview

The Liars' Club brought to vivid, indelible life Mary Karr's hardscrabble Texas childhood. Cherry, her account of her adolescence, "continued to set the literary standard for making the personal universal" (Entertainment Weekly). Now Lit follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner's descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness—and to her astonishing resurrection.

Karr's longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood ...

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Lit

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Overview

The Liars' Club brought to vivid, indelible life Mary Karr's hardscrabble Texas childhood. Cherry, her account of her adolescence, "continued to set the literary standard for making the personal universal" (Entertainment Weekly). Now Lit follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner's descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness—and to her astonishing resurrection.

Karr's longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet produces a son they adore. But she can't outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in "The Mental Marriott," with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors, awakens her to the possibility of joy and leads her to an unlikely faith. Not since Saint Augustine cried, "Give me chastity, Lord—but not yet!" has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity.

Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up—as only Mary Karr can tell it.

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Editorial Reviews

Pam Houston
“Scrappy, gut-wrenching. . . . Irresistible. . . . [Written] with trademark wit, precision, and unfailing courage.”
Redbook Magazine
“Riveting.”
Body + Soul
“Mary Karr sparked a memoir revival with The Liars’ Club—now she’s back with Lit to describe how she turned those early troubles into literary gold.”
Michiko Kakutani
“Searing. . . . A book that lassos you, hogties your emotions and won’t let you go. . . . Chronicles with searching intelligence, humor and grace the author’s slow, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes painful discovery of her vocation and her voice as a poet and writer.”
Samantha Dunn
“Karr could tell you what’s on her grocery list, and its humor would make you bust a gut, its unexpected insights would make you think and her pitch-perfect command of our American vernacular might even take your breath away…. [Karr] holds the position of grande dame memoirista.”
Susan Cheever
“In a gravelly, ground-glass-under-your-heel voice that can take you from laughter to awe in a few sentences, Karr has written the best book about being a woman in America I have read in years.”
Melanie Gideon
“As irresistible as it is unflinchingly honest. . . . With grace, saltiness and profanity galore, Karr undeniably re-establishes herself as one of our finest memoirists and storytellers.”
Rebecca Steinitz
“Dazzling. . . . Lit reminds us not only how compelling personal stories can be, but how, in the hands of a master, they can transmute into the highest art.”
Ken Tucker
“[A] radiant, rueful, rip-roaring book. . . .Warm enough to burn a hole in your heart.”
Carmela Ciuraru
“There isn’t a single false note in Lit.”
Bob Minzesheimer
“A redemptive, painfully funny story.”
Michelle Green
“Karr movingly depicts her halting journey into AA, making it clear her grit and spirit remain intact.”
Commonweal
“Lit matches its predecessors in candor and outstrips them in insight.”
Valery Sayers
“Karr’s sharp and funny sensibility won me over to her previous two volumes, but what wins me over to Lit is the way her acute self-awareness conquers any hint that hers is the only version of this story…. Karr is as funny as ever.”
Steve Ross
“With this third book Karr has managed to raise the bar higher still on the genre of memoir.”
Beth Greenfield
“[Karr] continues to delight with her signature dark humor and pitch-perfect metaphors delivering large doses of wit and painful insights. . . . There are plenty of memoirs about being drunk, but this one has Karr’s voice-both sure-footed and breezy-behind it.”
Elizabeth Foy Larsen
“Mary Karr has never lacked for material. But she’s always delivered on the craft side, too, with her poet’s gift for show-and-tell.”
Glamour
“A brutally honest, sparkling story.”
Vanity Fair
“Mary Karr restores memoir form’s dignity with Lit.”
Library Journal
Currently an award-winning, best-selling memoirist who described herself as an "on-my-knees [Catholic] spouter of praise" in a 2007 New York Times blog interview, Karr (The Liars' Club; Cherry) narrowly escaped a troubled upbringing and early adulthood that included alcoholic, psychotic parents, being raped as a child, and her own descent into alcoholism. She describes hitting rock bottom—an event that marked her transformation into the mother she was trying to escape—and her subsequent conversion to Catholicism in addition to the maturation of her writing style. The writing here sometimes seems affected, but her tale is riveting, her style clear-eyed and frank. That Karr survived the emotional and physical journey she regales her readers with to become the evenhanded, self-disciplined writer she is today is arguably nothing short of a miracle, and readers of her previous two books won't be disappointed. VERDICT This latest installment of Karr's autobiographical saga is essential for fans of lurid, meaty memoirs. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 7/09.]—Megan Hodge, Randolph-Macon Coll. Lib., Ashland, VA
Kirkus Reviews
Acclaimed poet and bestselling memoirist Karr (English Literature/Syracuse Univ.; Sinners Welcome: Poems, 2006, etc.) deftly covers a vast stretch of her life-age 17 to her present 50. The author picks up where her 2000 memoir Cherry left off-escaping her toxic childhood in small-town Texas for the California coast. Quickly bored, and realizing it was a mistake to turn her back on higher education, Karr secured loans and sought the book-lined security of the college campus. Most of the scenes that unfold from here, unlike those from her eccentric childhood, are more familiar: the college student desperate to manifest her intellect; the poor country girl trying to prove to her rich WASP dinner hosts that she's worthy of their son; a sleep-deprived new mom with a pot roast to cook; the AA newcomer who thinks she doesn't really have a problem; the sinful skeptic arriving at faith. The difference, though, is the way in which Karr renders these stories. She still writes with a singular combination of poetic grace and Texan verve, which allows her to present the experiences as fresh, but she also brings a potent, self-condemning honesty and a palpable sense of responsibility and regret to the narrative. These elements were necessarily absent from her previous memoirs, in which there were plenty of adults to blame; she is writing from a significantly different place now. Her confessional of outrunning her past only to encounter the same monsters, before being saved by prayer and love for her son, is richer for it. Karr also provides fascinating anecdotes from her experiences as a writer, especially her time at Harvard and the emotional publication of her universally praised debut memoir, TheLiars' Club (1995). Will ring as true in American-lit classrooms as in church support groups-an absolute gem that secures Karr's place as one of the best memoirists of her generation. Agent: Amanda Urban/ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062421098
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/29/2015
  • Pages: 400

Meet the Author

Mary Karr

Mary Karr is a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry. She has won Pushcart Prizes for both verse and essays, and is the Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University. Her previous two memoirs, The Liars' Club and Cherry, were New York Times bestsellers.

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