Jul 12, 11
Read in July, 2011
The experience of reading this book is one of being swept so effectively into someone else's experience that I have to give it a five. Pick it up, lie down on the couch, and if you've ever been an aspiring writer, a member of a psychotic family, a lover of poetry or even just an avid reader, you'll be as absorbed as ever you were in Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Jane Eyre. East Texas girl overcomes horrific childhood but has to kick her alcoholism to become best-selling memoirist is just as gripping as Jane finding love but needing to overcome Rochester's bigamous impulses, or Anne finding a home in Prince Edward Island once she starts getting a grip on her habit of living only in daydreams.
Karr delivers us what we want the most: a tale of upward mobility and material success that is also the tale of moral reform. Little Mary had the discipline to live through a psychotic mother, stop drinking and trust God, thus she is now a wealthy author living in Manhattan. I confess to having eaten up every last spoonful.
But I wonder. Can a narrative of spiritual reform also be a narrative of material success? I haven't got the slightest doubt that Karr experienced a real spiritual reform. She tells the story of her drunkenness without a trace of defensiveness or self-excuse. She struggles to forgive her mother, and if the tone of all three of her books can be believed, she succeeds. After reading all three memoirs, *I* have trouble forgiving her mother. She was a dangerous and impossible woman. Reading Karr's memoirs makes me humble, makes me want to try to be a better more forgiving person myself. It's just that the logic of "I started to pray, and then God gave me a fellowship. And a book contract. And a best-seller" is very far from the life stories of saints and mystics from whom Karr draws her own spirituality. Those biographies usually go "I started to pray and then God asked me to give up all my worldly wealth, and now the church has set the Spanish Inquisition after me." Karr may be a reluctant Catholic, but this memoir is more aligned with the Protestant tradition of a Christianity of prosperity.
Still, the book is lusciously written, engaging, and offers the hope that we can all become, with a little bit of grace, better selves, while keeping our senses of humor. It is a book worth reading.