If the first two volumes of her memoirs strutted, this one proceeds more modestly: Karr is full of regret, but she's also as funny as ever on the subject of her own sinning. Although these pages sometimes strain for effect…the language often captures, precisely, the tension between the intellectual and the emotional, the artistic and the spiritual. This is a story not just of alcoholism but of coming to terms with families past and present, with a needy self, with a spiritual longing Karr didn't even know she possessed. It sounds as if she was hellish to be around for much of the time she describes here, but she is certainly good company now.
The Washington Post
You always knew Mary Karr wasn't telling you everything. There were tantalizing hints of adult life in her two coming-of-age memoirs, The Liars' Club and Cherry. But Lit is the book in which she grows up and gets serious, as serious as motherhood, as serious as alcoholism, as serious as God. And it just makes her funnier. 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.
The New York Times Book Review
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
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
Karr performs her brave memoir about alcoholism, getting sober, and getting God in a confident Texas drawl. Readers familiar with The Liar's Club, Karr's account of her childhood will find parallels--her descent into alcoholism differs from her mother's addiction only in the details. Karr revisits her past with rare candor and humor, recounting her role in the disintegration of her marriage to “Warren Whitbread,” the reserved scion of a fabulously wealthy family (whose other members are deliciously skewered here), and her most shameful moments (leaving her feverish toddler to take a long swig from the bottle of Jack Daniels stashed in the oven). When Karr undergoes a hard-won spiritual awakening through the combined efforts of AA; her spiritual director, Joan the Bone; and a stay in the “Mental Marriott,” listeners will be cheering. A Harper hardcover. (Mar.)
Lit matches its predecessors in candor and outstrips them in insight.
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.
A brutally honest, sparkling story.
Mary Karr restores memoir form’s dignity with Lit.
Scrappy, gut-wrenching. . . . Irresistible. . . . [Written] with trademark wit, precision, and unfailing courage.
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.
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.
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.
[A] radiant, rueful, rip-roaring book. . . .Warm enough to burn a hole in your heart.
There isn’t a single false note in Lit.
A redemptive, painfully funny story.
Karr movingly depicts her halting journey into AA, making it clear her grit and spirit remain intact.
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.
With this third book Karr has managed to raise the bar higher still on the genre of memoir.
[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.
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.