Feb 16, 11
“The Liars” Club’ is a memoir that recounts the young life of Mary Karr, set mostly in the locale of flatland Texas. Mary writes with a style of frank storytelling that sets the stage for each event she covers in an intimate, matter-of-fact way. From tales of her wanderlust ancestors to childhood accounts of tragedy and circumstance, she maintains a tangible presence in her story telling and even breaks occasionally to add a note on the validity of the story she’s covering according to her sibling. The entire book is structured like a first-class ride through the life of someone who holds your hand the whole way.
Even though sometimes the content can be dark, the way the events are presented through the outlook of a child often smoothes the horror, and brings up the understanding that children do not perceive the world in the same way that adults do. Mary addresses content like emotional abuse, rape, ostracism and the necessity to be able to hold her own in life in the simplified outlook of a child who sees the world through the forgiving eyes of the imaginative. For instance, when a family member loses a leg due to a medical issue, Mary is not horrified by the gruesomeness of a missing appendage but equates the new look with that of a pirate, and even sketches out the idea. She recounts feelings of insecurity with her mother’s “Nervous” condition and the fact that her mother has had past marriages and families in very typically childish way: she worries about being Sent Away from her mother or about her mother disappearing because she doesn’t want their family anymore. Even the now-questionable subject of child discipline she delivers with some wit and humor, by claiming that she squirmed and fought through every spanking, ultimately making them last twice as long while her sister stood her ground during hers, making it last only a “Yankee Minute.”
The period anecdotes Mary includes in her telling help flesh the story into something personal, and offers a unique viewpoint to the time in which Mary grew up: for instance, the armor-like undergarments worn by her mother and grandmother and the DDT trucks that sprayed for disease-carrying mosquitoes. She also recalls that when she found out her home town, Leechfield, was the primary producer of Agent Orange, she wasn’t surprised. Her seedy, grimy, smoky town was the kind of place that was considered to be worse than anywhere else. For the same reason, her family, descendents of a people who were known to strap skillets to their back and travel west, wouldn’t have come looking if Mary had run away, because “any movement at all was taken for progress” in her family.
Throughout the course of the story, Mary explores the dynamics that made up her family and the experiences that helped shape her perceptions of the world. The book’s namesake, the Liars’ Club, where her daddy was one of the best storytellers, perhaps has some connection to the sometimes bizarre quality of the tales Mary tells herself in the book. But even if memory has clouded some truth to the events, what shines through is the quality of the storytelling and the lasting impression it makes on the reader.