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The Liars' Club

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Mary Karr grew up in a swampy East Texas refinery town in a volatile and defiantly loving family. In this funny, devastating, haunting memoir and with a raw and often painful honesty, she looks back at life with a painter mother, seven times married, whose outlaw spirit could tip over into psychosis, and a hard-drinking, fist-swinging father who liked nothing better than to spin tales with his cronies at the Liars' Club.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1995

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About the author

Mary Karr

44 books1,880 followers
Mary Karr is an American poet, essayist and memoirist. She rose to fame in 1995 with the publication of her bestselling memoir The Liars' Club. She is the Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University.

Karr was born January 16, 1955, in Groves, a small town in East Texas located in the Port Arthur region, known for its oil refineries and chemical plants, to J. P. and Charlie Marie (Moore) Karr. In her memoirs, Karr calls the town "Leechfield." Karr's father worked in an oil refinery while her mother was an amateur artist and business owner.

The Liars' Club, published in 1995, was a New York Times bestseller for over a year, and was named one of the year's best books. It delves vividly and often humorously into her deeply troubled childhood, most of which was spent in a gritty, industrial section of Southeast Texas in the 1960s. She was encouraged to write her personal history by her friend, author Tobias Wolff, but has said she only took up the project when her marriage fell apart.

She followed the book with another memoir, Cherry (2000), about her late adolescence and early womanhood. A third memoir, Lit, which she says details "my journey from blackbelt sinner and lifelong agnostic to unlikely Catholic," came out in November 2009.

Karr thinks of herself first and foremost as a poet. She was a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry in 2005 and has won Pushcart prizes for both her poetry and her essays. Karr has published four volumes of poetry: Abacus (Wesleyan University Press, CT, 1987, in its New Poets series), The Devil's Tour (New Directions NY, 1993, an original TPB), Viper Rum (New Directions NY, 1998, an original TPB), and her new volume Sinners Welcome (HarperCollins, NY 2006). Her poems have appeared in major literary magazines such as Poetry, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly.

She is a controversial figure in the American poetry "establishment," thanks to her Pushcart-award winning essay, "Against Decoration," which was originally published in the quarterly review Parnassus (1991) and later reprinted in Viper Rum. In this essay Karr took a stand in favor of content over poetic style. She argued emotions need to be directly expressed, and clarity should be a watch-word: characters are too obscure, the presented physical world is often "foggy" (that is imprecise), references are "showy" (both non-germane and overused), metaphors over-shadow expected meaning, and techniques of language (polysyllables, archaic words, intricate syntax, "yards of adjectives") only "slow a reader"'s understanding. Karr directly criticized well-known, well-connected, and award-winning poets such as James Merrill, Amy Clampitt, Vijay Seshadri, and Rosanna Warren (daughter of Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Penn Warren). Karr favors controlled elegance to create transcendent poetic meaning out of not-quite-ordinary moments, presenting James Merrill's Charles on Fire as a successful example.

While some ornamentations Karr rails against are due to shifting taste, she believes much is due to the revolt against formalism which substituted sheer ornamentation for the discipline of meter. Karr notes Randall Jarrell said much the same thing, albeit more decorously, nearly fifty years ago. Her essay is meant to provide the technical detail to Jarrell's argument. As a result of this essay Karr earned a reputation for being both courageous and combative, a matured version of the BB-gun toting little hellion limned in The Liars' Club.

Another essay, "Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer", was originally published in Poetry (2005). Karr tells of moving from agnostic alcoholic to baptized Catholic of the decidedly "cafeteria" kind, yet one who prays twice daily with loud fervor from her "foxhole". In this essay Karr argues that poetry and prayer arise from the same sources within us.

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5 stars
22,658 (33%)
4 stars
24,441 (36%)
3 stars
14,746 (21%)
2 stars
3,928 (5%)
1 star
1,467 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,606 reviews
Profile Image for Bryan Furuness.
Author 11 books92 followers
April 15, 2013
I don't write a lot of customer reviews. And when I finished this book, I didn't think it needed my review. For one thing, I'm probably the last person in the hemisphere to read it; for another, this book is so good and has been popular for so long that its ratings must be sky high, right?

At the time that I'm writing this review, the Goodreads rating is 3.88.

Over 2000 people gave it one or two stars.

People, for real. What are you looking for in a book? Karr has given you a gem, a freaking gem. She's got a poet's sense of the line, and a novelist's sense of structure. The sentences are the best that I've read in a year. Every one is sharp, by which I mean both smart and cutting. The way she bounces the reader through time seems to mimic the way memory works, only with much more clarity. Bad shit happens in this book, but she avoids pity and prurience, turning that shit into art.

Five stars. Five. And if I had super hacker skills, I would revoke the ranking privileges of everyone who gave this book one star. If you don't like this book, you don't like books.
Profile Image for Nancy.
557 reviews786 followers
February 14, 2017
Posted at Shelf Inflicted

After reading Will's intriguing review of Lit: A Memoir, I decided it was time to explore Mary Karr’s work, so I went to the library and borrowed The Liars' Club. Written in 1995, this memoir explores the author’s dysfunctional childhood in sweltering and swampy Leechfield, Texas.

Though Mary Karr and I did not have similar childhoods, there were definitely certain life situations and reactions to them that I could relate to and I came to realize that no matter how different people’s lives are, there are always things that will connect us. I was enthralled by her writing, which is very intimate and lyrical and enabled me to empathize with her.

Just like my dad, Mary’s dad saved receipts from nearly every bill he paid (and he always voted Democrat).

“It was a feat Daddy never got to perform, but on nights when he spread the receipts out chronologically, he made it clear to my sister and me that every day some suit-wearing, Republican sonofabitch (his term) weaseled a working man out of an extra three dollars for lack of a receipt. He would not be caught short. These notorious Republicans were the bogeymen of my childhood. When I asked him to define one (I think it was during the Kennedy-Nixon debate), Daddy said a Republican was somebody who couldn’t enjoy eating unless he knew somebody else was hungry, which I took to be gospel for longer than I care to admit. Maybe the only thing worse than being a Republican was being a scab.”

My brother was an obedient child and always stayed still while my dad was smacking him. To me, that made no sense and just made it easy for my dad. If I put enough energy into evading and escaping, dad had to spend energy grabbing for my wrist or bending over to yank me out from under the bed. This did not exhaust him, as I hoped it would, but only made the beating worse when he finally got a hold of me.

“Of course, I am famous for running in the middle of a spanking. It makes me proud that Daddy used to run too. I always figured only a dumbass would just stand still and take it.”

So Mary’s parents weren’t so great, but I loved the details she used to bring them to life. Even with all their flaws, I found it difficult to dislike them totally. My parents weren’t so perfect either. For the most part I was able to get past that when I remind myself they are human beings with flaws, and children don’t come with an instruction manual, and people just do the best they can. It’s not always good enough, but it’s easier to understand and empathize with your flawed parents when you’re not putting them up on a pedestal attributing superhuman qualities to them.

This is a very worthwhile story about hardship, family relationships, survival, and growing up. It is absorbing, disturbing, hilarious, honest and difficult to put down. I am looking forward to reading about Mary’s teen years.
Profile Image for Lilo.
131 reviews368 followers
April 16, 2018
Warning! This review contains spoilers.

To start out with, I find the title somewhat misleading. The Liars’ Club is the author’s father and his drinking buddies. Yet this book is not only about this group of alcoholics. Thus, the title does not really cover the whole book. Yet this is the smallest beef I have with this book.

I SOLEMNLY SWEAR that I’ll try really hard to never ever read a bestseller again (unless it is a classic that has stood the test of time).

“The Liars Club” is a bestseller. Stephen King has recommended it in his superb book “On Writing”. And one of the reviews on Amazon is titled with “The Best Memoir You Will Ever Read.” Since I am a memoir writer myself, I was very curious what a superlative-deserving memoir would be like. So I rushed to buy and read this book. Sadly, however, my high expectations were to be gravely disappointed.

I must give it to the author. Her story is quite unusual. Take an irresponsible, alcoholic, narcissistic, mentally ill mother. Add an irresponsible, alcoholic, lowlife father. And what you get is a family situation that is … … … . Sorry, I can’t find an adjective strong enough. So let me just say that throughout this book, I felt like screaming, “Where is Family Services?” The author and her 3-year-older sister should have been taken away from their parents—not for one good reason but for ongoing child neglect and child endangering (both of which resulted in significant damage).

The story is so unbelievable that numerous reviews on Amazon rated the book 1 star and refused to believe a word of it. I read some of these reviews when I was about one third into the book, and I was puzzled. I didn’t get it. The most positive I could say about this book so far was that it was brutally honest. But reading on, I ran into severe inconsistencies.

The book has three photographs added to the text. The first is of the author as an adult. Nothing wrong with this. Yet the second photograph, on page 175, before chapter 9, shows the author with her 3-year-older sister and has the caption “II. Colorado 1963”. Since the family had just arrived in Colorado that year, this makes the author 8 years old and her sister 11 years old. However, I’ll bet you anything that the two kids on this photograph are not any older than 4 and 7 years. This photograph shows the author as a sweet little kiddo with a chubby face and chubby hands, as quite normal for a 3- to 4-year-old. You might say, “So what! They accidentally got the wrong photograph into the book. This can happen.” Accidentally, the wrong photograph in the 10-year-anniversary edition of this bestseller, a book that only includes a total of 3 photographs! Sorry, I don’t buy this.

And this photograph is not the only inconsistency. Let’s start with the third photograph: This picture is on page 273, before chapter 14, and has the caption “III. Texas Again, 1980”. It obviously shows the author’s father, a man who is, at the time, a 62-year-old drunkard who will soon succumb to his unhealthy lifestyle. And now I am asking you: Does a 62-year-old alcoholic look like a handsome 35- to 40-year-old? I don’t think so. Not that this matters too much. Yet again, wrong photograph, I suppose.

However, there are more inconsistencies. Early in the book, the author states that she could not tie her shoe laces in grade 2, at age 7. Said that she lacked all talent necessary to tie a shoe lace. Nevertheless, about half a year later, in Colorado, she has learned in no time how to put a saddle and a bridle on a horse. Yet she also masters to ride bareback. Not only that. Within weeks, she becomes a skilled horseback-rider who wins in a riding contest. And that’s not all yet. She and her sister, two kids 8 and 11 years old, are allowed to take daily, day-long trips up the mountains, all by themselves, with no one accompanying them. This is a wilderness that contains grizzly bears (yes, grizzly bears, not just black bears!), mountain lions, wolves, and coyotes, all of which might enjoy two small girls for lunch. This on horses that shy upon the sight of a chipmunk! Not even talking about rattle snakes, which might also cross the horses’ path. And all of these trips without a map and without any survival gear. Even if these kids’ irresponsible parents would have allowed their children to make day-trips into this mountain-wilderness, which no outdoor-savvy adult would be likely to enter without a map, a weapon, and some survival gear, wouldn’t one think that the people where the horses were boarded would have prevented such child endangerment?

And there are other issues I have with this book. While I was not surprised that the neglect of these children would at some time lead to sexual encounters, I did not want to learn about these “happenings” in the most appalling details. I have no desire to read porn, and even less child porn. Even though I jumped parts of these detailed descriptions, what I read was still enough to make me feel nauseated. (And I do NOT have a queazy stomach.) If you read “Running With Scissors” and found parts of it too disgusting to stomach, do yourself a favor and do not touch this book. It is worse.

And I have another problem with the sexual contents of this book. The author kind of prides herself having been such a strong personality, so self-reliant, and so street-wise and even ferocious to the point that older children (and even adults) were afraid of her. So why does she not even make an attempt to fight or escape when she is assaulted (first time, at age 7, by an older boy; second time at age 8, by an adult). Neither of these predators had used any real force on her.—Let me tell you, I, too, was molested when I was 7 years old. The pedophile showed me his sexual organ and started to tickle me. I was neither self-reliant nor was I street-wise, and I certainly was not ferocious. Yet I have always been a strong personality. I fought this man and escaped before he could do me any harm. (That is if you disregard the emotional damage, which lasted into adulthood. Having seen something unchaste was a sin, and I was too embarrassed to mention this incident when I went to confession. Thus, into my teenage years, I considered myself living in sin and expected to go straight to hell if I happened to die. I also was so appalled by the looks of what I had seen that I was into my twenties and married when I still preferred to see a man dressed to seeing him undressed.) So why didn’t the author make the slightest attempt to fight or escape? I could see a weak personality (child or adult) being paralyzed in such situation and unable to move. But a wild, aggressive, and even ferocious kid! Seems strange to me.

And there is something else: The author keeps reflecting on the actions of the adults in a rather un-childlike manner. If certain things she says are true, she was probably an early-developer. But a child is still a child. Having been an early-developer myself, I know what an early-developer thinks, but I also know what an early-developer does NOT think. So, for instance, a child—early-developer or not—is unlikely to make a difference between skilled adults handling weapons and not-so-skilled adults handling weapons. However, the author claims that it did not scare her when her father and his drinking buddies handled weapons (as intoxicated as they might have been) but that it scared her when the bar flies in her mother’s pub acquired weapons. I don’t think that an 8-year-old child would make this difference. And from the author's other actions, I was not left with the impression that she was the least bit safety-minded. So why, all of a sudden, these concerns?

The language the parents of the author and their social contacts are using is as profane as it gets. I can take quite a bit of foul language (when it adds to the authenticity of the characters in a book) before I get annoyed, but too much is too much! There is a limit. At some point, I thought to myself, ‘Do I really want to listen to this (or rather read this) for 320 pages in very small print?’ And I also had no desire to learn approximately half a dozen of vulgar synonyms for a male sexual organ in aroused state.

Then, at page 275, at chapter 14, the author skips 17 years. We don’t learn what happened to her and her family between her age 8 and age 25. (There is only a short mentioning that the author became a drinker, an opium user, and a drifter, some time in her teenage years.) I assume we are supposed to buy and read the sequel to the above book in order to learn what happened during those 17 years. I am afraid I will have to die without ever having learned about these 17 missing years because unless someone kidnaps me and locks me into a room with this sequel and no other books or entertainment, I am quite unlikely to read another book by this author. I think, with “The Liars’ Club”, I have read enough foul language (such as motherf….. and cocks…..) and unsolicited child porn to last me for the next 300 years.

In chapter 15, the last chapter of the book, the author finally gets her mother to tell her more about her past and to reveal to her a family secret. This is obviously meant as some kind of a happy end and is supposed to explain all of her mother’s utterly irresponsible behavior and even her bouts of insanity (always triggered by heavy drinking). Sorry! Doesn’t fly with me. Whatever her mother might have suffered as a teenager and young woman (and I doubt that nothing of this was her fault) does not excuse any of her behavior and especially not her continuous drunk driving. This continuous drunk driving is not only practiced by the author’s mother and father but also, in later years, by the author herself. It is a miracle that no humans and only a pitiable cat came to harm due to this irresponsible drunk driving. The end of the book also depicts the author’s father as a WWII hero. Maybe this is true. And if it is, I’ll thank him for his service. Yet this, too, does not excuse his irresponsible behavior and particularly his continuous drunk driving.

Why would Stephen King recommend this book? My only explanation is that Stephen King is a fan of the horror genre. And this book can truly be called a horror story. Mind you, the book description and also many reviews call this book sad and funny. I must say that I could not laugh a single time. You probably need the kind of humor that lets you laugh at broken bones, careless driving under the influence, and a mother leaving her children with untrustworthy bar flies to find this book funny. I do not have this kind of humor.

All in all, I do not like any of the characters in this book, including the author (whom I find lacking kindness and compassion), with maybe the exception of the author’s maternal grandmother, whom, btw, the author has despised and wished dead all along. This grandmother may not have been overly likable either, but I pity her from all my heart, not only for what she physically suffered during the last year of her life but also for having to spend the last chapter of her life in such a chaotic household, with an alcoholic, deranged daughter (even though it says in the book that she miraculously pulled herself together while her mother came to live with the family) and terribly-behaved grandchildren, namely, the author and her sister.

So what do I believe of all this? Hard to tell. Maybe the author suffers from pseudologia fantastica and has just simply been making things up. More likely, however, she had random memories she could not correlate to a certain time and age. Thus, she might have put them together as she saw fit to make an interesting story. And I would not put it beyond her to have exaggerated and embellished whatever suited her. It seems to me that this book is a mixture of “Dichtung und Wahrheit (Poetry and Truth)”*

Did I like anything about this book? Yes I did. The book is well written, at least for the most part. (It gets rather disconnected at times, especially in the last two chapters.) I particularly liked the creative allegories.

Still, summa summarum: very disappointing!

* (Aus meinem Leben: Dichtung und Wahrheit (From my Life: Poetry and Truth; 1811–1833) is an autobiography by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that comprises the time from the poet's childhood to the days in 1775, when he was about to leave for Weimar.)

Update April 16, 2018: Please note comment #24 and my response to it with comment #25. It is obviously not beyond the author (or the publisher?) to hire people to write nasty comments on negative reviews.
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
September 27, 2020
I am confoundingly happy that poets can also be great novelists. (I read very little poetry, dedicating my time to prose almost exclusively.) Better yet, sometimes expert autobiographers.

Shares the same bookshelf with Jeanette Walls' also mighty impressive nonfiction autobio "The Glass Castle."
Profile Image for Dorothea.
122 reviews48 followers
November 3, 2013
The Liars' Club is Mary Karr's memoir of her childhood growing up in a small, east Texas oil town, and was first published in 1995. The thought of how this woman's writing has managed to escape me until two weeks ago is unnerving. I blame all of you, actually, for not telling me about her sooner. Jesus and the angels will help me recover from this most bitter betrayal.

From the first page of this book I was sucked in. I had to sleep with it next to my head on my pillow and carry it around with me at all times. When I finished it, I wanted to read again. Her writing is brutal, ballsy, alluring and sharp.

Mary was the type of child who, at the age of nine, climbed up a tree and started shooting bbs at the family of a boy who insulted her. She would flip off her grade school teachers and tell other authority figures to, "Eat me raw," thinking it was just another way of saying, "Kiss my ass."

Yeah, so when you see your neighbors' children behaving like anarchist strippers on crack and you wonder if you should call child-protective services, you might want to read this book first, because its hilarious and tragic and the best damn thing I've read in a long time. And I'm not saying it should have any bearing on you making that call. That's between you and God. What I'm saying is Brutally Sharp Alluring Balls, people, that's all I'm sayin'.
Profile Image for Libros Prestados.
426 reviews810 followers
June 22, 2018
Aquí la videoreseña: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SopXm...

Hace varios días que termine la lectura de este libro. Le di un tiempo de reposo para fijar mis idea y dar una opinión más clara, más allá de las primeras emociones, pero sigo sin saber muy bien qué decir.

Me he reído muchísimo con este libro (como hacía tiempos que no lo hacía), hay partes en las que se me han humedecido los ojos, y otras donde me he quedado horrorizada por las escenas que describía la autora. Es un libro emotivo, pero no sentimentaloide. Te cuenta las cosas con una naturalidad a veces refrescante, otras aterradora, pero siempre real.

Y sin embargo, pese a que algunos de los pasajes de este libro son un combustible perfecto para pesadillas, es una novela optimista. La autora quiere transmitir la idea de que el ser humano, por defecto, no se rompe, solo se comba. Hay personas que han sufrido cosas horribles y, sin embargo, salen más normales de lo que cabría esperar. Al final, las personas salimos más "normales" de lo que creemos. Y también habla del poder terapéutico de sincerarse, de decir la verdad, de contarlo. Al final, mentimos (y nos mentimos) creyendo que así protegemos a quienes amamos, que nos protegemos a nosotros mismos, pero no es cierto. La verdad nos hace libres, o así lo cree la autora sinceramente.

Supongo que la facilidad de Karr para imitar el habla de distintas personas se notará más en la obra original. Las traducciones siempre pierden un poco en ese respecto. Incluso así, es un placer leer este libro y lo que cuenta la autora y cómo lo cuenta. Todavía le doy vueltas a esta historia. En el buen sentido. En el sentido en que me ha parecido una novela fantástica.
Profile Image for Ines.
321 reviews198 followers
September 20, 2020
Do you want an advice? Read this book in a period of peace of mind because the reading has a disruptive force to make you enter in a highly depressive grey vortex.
I am still not able to frame and analyze the impression that this reading has left me, surely Karr's writing is magnificent and the pages can be read without heaviness.
The characters are gloomy, almost evil, always imbued with a total and inexplicable inner violence., even the smallest actions of our daily life are emphasized by Karr with a sense of condemnation and absence of good. The experience that Karr shows us is full of thirst for good and love.... that unfortunately will never come. There is not a landing place of magnanimity and hope, everything ends in an even deeper vortex.
And I have closed the book so shaken up that I still do not know how to look at what I have read.
Surely certain and grateful for my life.

Un consiglio? leggete questo libro in un periodo di serenità perchè la lettura ha una forza dirompente di farvi entrare in un vortice grigio altamente depressivo.
Non riesco ancora bene ad inquadrare ed analizzare l'impressione che mi ha lasciato questa lettura, sicuramente la scrittura della Karr è magnifica e le pagine si leggono senza pesantezza.
I personaggi sono cupi, quasi malefici, sempre intrisi da una totale ed inspiegabile violenza interiore., anche le più piccole azioni del nostro quotidiano vivere vengono sottolineate dalla Karr con un senso di condanna e assenza di bene. Il vissuto che la Karr ci mostra è denso di sete di bene e amore.... che purtroppo non arriverà mai. Non c'è un approdo di magnanimità e speranza, il tutto finisce in un vortice ancora più profondo.
E io ho chiuso il libro così scossa che ancora adesso non so bene come guardare ciò che ho letto.
Certa e grata del mio vissuto.
Profile Image for Merry.
243 reviews27 followers
December 31, 2012
The tragic life of two sisters, as told by the younger sister, in a small East Texas. Total dysfunction and quite sad. The author writes of every bad detail with no good news between the lines. The final chapters will bring some explanation for their terrible upbringing. The reviews on the back of this book claim it to be "wickedly funny", "astonishing, moving memoir", "howling misery and howling laughter, with the reader veering towards howling laughter", and, "a crazy family tormented by unspoken sorrows......result is funny, lively and un-put-downable". I saw nothing humorous in this book. I just found it sad and the reviews are not accurate, in my opinion.
Profile Image for Nicholas.
Author 7 books80 followers
April 26, 2010
I fully anticipated that I would love this book. Almost everyone else has. And has then gone on to love her two subsequent memoirs. But, I have to say, I probably found the 10th Anniversary Foreword and the last chapter (when the reader finds out, at least in part, why her mother is so insane) the most compelling. The rest of it I just couldn't get into.

It's not that nothing happens -- because plenty does -- but at times I felt like SO MUCH happened that the reader wasn't given any clue as to what was actually important and what was just detail. I didn't feel like there was any narrative arc. And I couldn't bring myself to care all that much, about the story or about the characters.

Which brings me to my final point: the majority of the book covers Karr's childhood before the age of 8. I understand that memoir can be just as subjective as fiction and I'm not bothered by this. I also read that Karr thanks her mother and sister in the acknowledgments for helping her to recall certain events. But honestly, I find it seriously hard to believe that she could possibly have the memory that she claims to have. It's astonishing, particularly in the detail that she claims to recall (and there is a lot of detail; see above).

The weird thing is that it's quite clear that Mary Karr can write, certainly at the level of the sentence and indeed of the paragraph. She constructs both beautifully and it's not hard to believe that she is a poet, which she is. But she was not a poet who made me all that interested in what, in theory at least, could have been a pretty interesting story.
Profile Image for Melody.
2,644 reviews270 followers
October 31, 2009
Re-read. I stand by the five star rating. Karr's voice is pure, poetic and real. Though my childhood was nothing like hers, the bits which I identify with stir up an amazing welter of emotions and ghosts for me. I fall overboard into this memoir and can smell the East Texas refinery town just like I'd grown up there. Karr's description of her mother's Nervousness is priceless and heartwrenching. The whole book is beautifully written, so much so that one hardly realizes how deeply dysfunctional the family is until one surfaces, after, and looks around one's own life.
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,270 followers
March 30, 2016
Story Tellers and Poodles

Mary Karr's father was a working class Texan who belonged to a group of ex-servicemen who hung out together at an American Legion poolroom and bar, drinking, shooting pool, playing cards and dominoes, and telling stories, some melancholy, some humorous, some real, some imagined, some tall, some short, hence the name given to them by one of their wives, "the Liars' Club".

Daddy achieved the rank of sergeant and declined a promotion as a result of his battlefield courage, because in his eyes any rank higher than a sergeant would have made him a "poodle" and he didn't want to drink in an officers' club or belong to a "poodle club".

You get the impression that the stories told by a poodle would have been of a vastly different calibre, less gritty and real-life, less founded or grounded in their own experiences, less spontaneous, less memorable, less authentic, more fabricated, more "edge-u-kated", more pompous, with less sensitivity to the cadences of the spoken word and the oral tradition.

Books and Stories

Mary was allowed to hang out with the Liars' Club when she was between seven and nine years old, and it seems her way of storytelling was influenced by what she heard. It created a permanent bond with her father, over and above her parallel affection for her eccentric mother, who instilled in her a love of art and culture and literature (she read Homer, Ovid, Virgil, Sartre on the porch, while next to her side of the bed was a wobbly tower of hardback books) and defiantly un-self-conscious non-hipster non-conformity. Mary acknowledges in her dedication that her mother and father taught her to "love books and stories, respectively".

Being Believed

"Liars' Club" is the first of three memoirs of Mary's life, and at the time of this review, the only one that I've read.

Mother fancied herself a sort of Bohemian Scarlet O'Hara, while Daddy was some part Indian ("we never figured out which tribe"), "black-haired and sharp-featured...Daddy was handsome enough and the proper blend of outlaw and citizen":

"Of all the men in the Liars' Club, Daddy told the best stories. When he started one, the guys invariably fell quiet, studying their laps or their cards or the inner rims of their beer mugs like men in prayer. No matter how many tangents he took or how far the tale flew from its starting point before he reeled it back, he had this gift: he knew how to be believed. He mastered it the way he mastered bluffing in poker...his tough half-breed face would move between solemn blankness and sudden caricature. He kept stock expressions for stock characters. When his jaw jutted and stiffened and his eyes squinted, I expected to hear the faint brogue of his uncle Husky...His sister pursed her lips in steady disapproval..."

Mary Karr makes no pretence that books and stories are the same thing, or that they are composed the same way, or that there is only one way to tell a story, write a memoir or create a fiction, whether autobiographical or not.

However, like her Daddy, what matters is the skill of "being believed".

Karr is now a Professor of Literature, who teaches and has influenced the art of contemporary memoir.

Whether consciously or not, reading this work made me question a lot of the authorial practices that are passed off as good writing in the hallowed corridors and holy book clubs of GoodReads.

How often do we have to be told about William H. Gass' superlative sentence construction (last on display in "Omensetter's Luck" and strangely absent from his subsequent bloated inditements)? No sentence works in isolation from others, it needs companions (in his own words, "prose cannot describe without beginning to narrate"). One great sentence does not a narrative or a fiction or a literary work make.

When many sentences work in conjunction with each other, the focus turns to the juxtaposition and the relationship of the sentences, what they work towards, how one sentence "looks forward to the words (and events) that are about to arrive". ["Narrative Sentences" in the collection "Life Sentences"]

The narrative draws attention to its propulsion or the flow from one sentence to another.

Mary Karr has mastered this propulsion in spades. Her sentences form a sequence as elegant as a change of baton in a relay race.

Gassius Otter Spotter and the Order of the Poodle

Ironically, William H. Gass, the ultimate popcorn and scotch quaffing poodle (who has used his criticism to ensconce himself in the Officers' Club to dictate academic, literary and reading practice), doesn't seem to recognise or appreciate this as a skill, instead pouring scorn on the facility of so-called middlebrow prose:

"When reviewers take the trouble to compliment a writer on her style, it is usually because she has made it easy for them to slide from one sentence to another like an otter down a slope.”

What's wrong with an otter on a slope? Is it that Gass requires more difficulty for fiction to be worthy or important? What's behind his fear of the Deathly Shallows?

Is there only one way to write? That ordained by the Grand Master of the Poodle Club? Is literature meant to be the preserve of only Poodles Like Us?

Occupy Thrall Street

If anything, Mary Karr concluded that she needed to strive for greater simplicity, less trickster affectation, albeit not at the expense of sophistication:

"I had a comma stutter in the first book, which I corrected in the second."

Mary Karr hints at her motivation in a poem about her father called "Illiterate Progenitor":

"My father lived so far from the page
The only mail he got was marked Occupant."

"It’s difficult to accept what your psyche or history dooms you to write, what Faulkner would call your postage stamp of reality. Young writers often mistakenly choose a certain vein or style based on who they want to be, unconsciously trying to blot out who they actually are. You want to escape yourself. For almost ten years it didn’t occur to me that I should exploit Daddy’s blue-collar idiom. I was trying to pass for edge-u-kated."

Her concern, at least in the context of memoir, is to be believable. This believability can only be achieved at the level of the sentence and the narrative.

"Strangely, readers ‘believe’ what’s rendered with physical clarity...

"My Texas-oil-worker daddy introduced me as a kid to the raconteur’s need for physical evidence when he told me a story about selling fake moonshine to some city boys. His brother was driving off with Daddy hanging on the running board of a Model T when a pursuer driving alongside snatched Daddy’s pants off from behind.

'Bull dookey', I said. 'You saw that in 'Bugs Bunny.'

'You don’t believe me?' I didn’t. 'I had this shirt on when it happened.'

"My mouth slung itself open.

"It’s sad how long I believed stories based on arbitrary physical objects that my daddy fished out from his past and plunked down into my present, like that shirt. It became totemic evidence that elevated the tall tale into reality.

"Getting sophisticated about carnal writing (By carnal, I mean, can you apprehend it through the five senses?) means selecting sensual data—items, odors, sounds—to recount details based on their psychological effects on a reader. A great detail feels particular in a way that argues for its truth. A reader can take it in. The best have extra poetic meaning. In some magic way, the detail from its singular position in a room can help to evoke the rest of the whole scene...

"The great writer trolls the world for totemic objects to place on a page. In every genre, it’s key. No detail is Brand X or generic. It all springs, as Keats once said of metaphor, like leaves from a tree.

"Of course, physical details, however convincing, actually prove zip in terms of truth. Surely I misremember all kinds of stuff. Maybe the boy I kissed was chewing Bazooka Joe or Dubble Bubble, say. But I think in this case the specific memory—even if wrong—is permissible, because readers understand the flaws of memory and allow for them."

Literature as a Vivid Language Experience

Mary Karr's memoir resonates partly because of its indebtedness to the oral tradition:

"Public readings and the oral tradition [are] important to me. An aesthetic experience is fine, but unless someone is infused with feeling from a work of art, it’s totally without conviction. My idea of art is, you write something that makes people feel so strongly that they get some conviction about who they want to be or what they want to do. It’s morally useful not in a political way, but it makes your heart bigger; it’s emotionally and spiritually empowering...

"I feel like the reader has given up twenty-plus dollars, and I owe her a vivid experience without lying."

Ultimately, this is all we can expect of any author: their own vision of a vivid language experience, something that comes from them and does not kowtow to self-proclaimed academic mandarins and their imperious lieutenants and promoters, something that is not dictated by poodles trying to shape and strangle literature in their own shelfish image.

Let the poodles have their poodle dookey to themselves!

"Daddy's Wallet" [Excerpt]

"That reminded [Mother] to fish Daddy's wallet from his jeans jacket in the backseat. She unfolded the wings of it and started picking past onionskin gas receipts and ticket stubs. There was a cocktail napkin with the point spread from a baseball game on which the lights had long since gone dim. Strangest of all, she found two documents of mine - the one college report card where I pulled down straight A's, and a Xerox of my first published poem. The poem was about Daddy's sister. It had been unfolded so many times and smoothed across so many damp bar tops the parchment warped and buckled. The middle creases were cloudy with blurred ink. The notion of his toting that around nearly broke me in half crying, so Mother started bawling too. We blubbered in a wild chorus behind bobbing headlights all the way home."
Profile Image for Emily Green.
505 reviews18 followers
January 16, 2011
I had heard a great deal about Mary Karr's _The Liars' Club_ before I read it. _The Liars' Club_ is considered one of the groundbreaking books in the current memoir movement, and there is much for a writer to learn from it, both things to steal and things to avoid.

To steal, of course, are the humor and honesty. One of my favorite moments occurs when Karr explains that she and her sister misheard the phrase "It ain't the heat, it's the humidity" for years, believing people said, "It ain't the heat, it's the stupidity." Brilliant. And Karr is always forthright about both the perceptions of the child and the adult narrator. The descriptions of her parents spare no one involved, but in the end, do not condemn nor place their heads on stakes.

Karr also organizes her book well--it becomes a story, not just the relating of her childhood. The people become characters, including herself. When we read, we often look for elements which we can relate to, and the inner workings of family, as well as how they differ from the outer workings of the world, are issues with which we all must struggle.

Not to mention Karr has found herself a brilliant title.

Now, while the book was enjoyable, for the most part, child abuse, especially sexual abuse, isn't a topic most people enjoy reading about. When Karr published _The Liars' Club,_ she was one of the first in the movement to reveal so graphically her sufferings. Perhaps _The Liars' Club_ can be viewed as a book that opened dialogue for survivors of sexual abuse, and probably did many a great service. However, the climate has changed a bit. With books like _Running with Scissors_ filling the shelves, discussion of abuse has become common, almost to the point of cliche. It's difficult to provide catharsis for the reader, almost as difficult as it is to provide healing for the self after such trauma. Abuse in a memoir cannot be merely revelation, it must be an integral part of the story that serves the plot as well as the development of the character/memoirist. It cannot be there just because it happened, just like any event in the book cannot be there just because it occurred in the writer's life. And the reader wants some catharsis, some acknowledgment of the memoir that the writer not only lived through the abuse, but was able to thrive. We don't want a victim. Harsh, maybe, but we readers don't just want a tell-all, we want a tell-all that also makes a good story.
Profile Image for Reese.
163 reviews64 followers
June 30, 2015
NOTE: THE LIARS'CLUB four-star rating does not mean that I "really liked it."

I usually love memoirs. (Well, not ones written by narcissists or liars.) If I were young enough to have read Mary Karr's THE LIARS' CLUB (1995) when I was in my early twenties, I might well have appreciated it to the extent that the work deserves. Alas, another if. Unfortunately, I've grown old, old enough to "wear my trousers rolled" (T.S. Eliot). And in the past year, this old person has read too much material (fiction and nonfiction) that presents in detail the awful, the ugly, the sickening, the infuriating experiences of children whose parents are not fit to be parents. With my zero-tolerance for the neglect and abuse of children, I found making my way through THE LIARS' CLUB a chore that I kept postponing.

Yes, I could have put Karr's memoir back on a shelf or added it to my bookswap list after I had read fifty (or fewer) pages; but some unidentifiable voice, for some unknown reason, stopped me from abandoning it. Was I supposed to finish the book so that I would learn what most dimwits know: rotten parents don't necessarily create rotten children??? I've never accepted Huck Finn's assertion that "a body that don't get started [ital.] right when he's little ain't got no show." The memoir's last section, an account of events that occur seventeen years after the previous section, seems to be the author's way of (1)dealing with old issues and (2)declaring: "See -- good children can happen to bad parents." And if that is what Karr wants to say, my response is "What's your point?" No, I didn't miss the "point" -- I dismissed it.

While I'm glad that I'm not STILL reading THE LIARS' CLUB, I am, nevertheless, glad that I HAVE READ it. It's a valuable book -- if for no other reason than its potential to get readers to notice that where blame lies is not what matters. Granted, we can explain and justify and excuse the behavior of irresponsible parents by looking at their parents and at the unfortunate circumstances that helped to produce each generation. But to what end? In a description of some of her mother's "crying jag[s]," Karr does reveal what really counts: "Then she would bawl like a sick cat, hanging her head in her hands. . . and saying that we didn't understand, and that it wasn't our fault that she was crying. Like we cared whose fault it was instead of just wanting it stopped"(132). The alcoholism, the violence, the lunacy, and so on. STOPPED. All else is not very useful commentary.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,174 reviews8,391 followers
April 10, 2019
This was a challenging read at times, especially regarding sexual assault (if you are sensitive to that, be warned there are some very descriptive chapters regarding it).

It definitely reminded me a lot of The Glass Castle, Chanel Bonfire, and Educated. And I'm not sure if that's a pro or con because I loved those books but this felt a bit stale because I'd read that story a few times before. Karr's writing, however, is superb and as it went on I got much more invested in the story. The last couple chapters in particular were very compelling.

Overall a solid read and I can see why it's been so popular over the years.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,115 followers
December 3, 2015
After reading Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir, I decided to give her memoirs another try. Instead of starting with Lit, a book I had already abandoned, I decided to start with Cherry because it was 50 cents at a book sale. Just a few pages in it became clear that the author was continuing her story that she'd started in The Liars' Club, so I went back to the beginning.

I think well-written memoir pulls you in by finding common ground. Was I surprised to find common ground with a child of east-Texas 1960s with an alcoholic mother? Well yes, a bit. But it was astonishing how much of it resonated with me. Apart from that Karr is an excellent writer and you can tell that she has agonized over some of the passages in this book. They aren't just a tall tale of a rough childhood, they are crafted sentences and turned phrases. I appreciated that aspect of it.

About her relationship with her sister:
"(In fights Lecia and I have as grown-ups, she'll scream at me, 'You were always so fucking cute!' And I'll scream back, 'You were always so fucking incompetent!')"

When her mother was in a mental facility:
"'I'm sorry you're all locked up,' I said, which made her laugh.
'Shit, honey,' she said, 'you-all are locked up, too. You're just in a bigger room.'"

On her relationship with her father:
"So over the years, Daddy and I grew abstract to each other. We knew each other in theory and loved in theory. But if placed in proximity - when I came home, say - any room we sat in would eventually fall into a soul-sucking quiet I could hardly stand."

Also discussed on Episode 044 of the Reading Envy Podcast, along with some discussion of The Art of Memoir.
Profile Image for Sheryl Sorrentino.
Author 6 books87 followers
September 1, 2014
Like many of the low-star reviewers, I really wanted to love this book because it was recommended to me by a friend and colleague. But it did not hold my interest and I found myself not especially wanting to return to it. I kept at it, though, because I expected it to improve and wanted to have the complete picture before rendering judgment. In the end, for me it fell flat.

The writing, while sometimes clever and often humorous, utterly lacked any richness of emotion. I think that is why I could not get engaged, despite the sometimes attention-grabbing goings-on. The author cloaks some rather horrific events with an opaque mask of what I believe to be desensitization. For example, her mother supposedly shot her boyfriend, Hector, but in the next scene, he is perfectly fine and we are back to shenanigans. The mother nearly drove her two kids purposefully off a bridge escaping a tornado, and yet, other than the author’s internal confusion in doubting what had just happened, they arrived at their destination moments in front of the storm no worse for wear. Did these things actually happen that way, or were they supposed to be the product of an overactive childhood imagination? This was not entirely clear to me, and I think in order for such scenes to pack punch, they have to be described in such a way that the reader can connect with why it mattered enough to the protagonist (in this case, the author) to tell about it.

In a similar vein, the terror the author felt for her grandmother was somehow not relatable, despite the fact that Karr presents her as a frightful character and the climax at the end (regarding her prosthetic leg) was rather jolting. Again, despite good writing, some indefinable element was missing that caused the entire thing to fall flat.

I agree with several reviewers that these parents, while quirky, unstable, and substance-addicted, were not abusive per se, but were like many parents: well-intentioned, loving, and often genuinely endearing, but addled by their own issues. In this regard, I saw many similarities with Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle, and must agree that is by far a superior book in this genre.

I found the neat little “wrap-up” at the end to be a rather rushed and academic recitation of events meant to tie the whole lukewarm muddle together and justify that the mother was genuinely crazy. Presented that way, it fizzled even while providing legitimate answers. By that point, the answers were almost superfluous. I think this explanation could have been handled much better if it hadn’t been tagged on like an afterthought.

Finally, I agree with other reviewers that many of the events recounted in this book were tedious and extraneous, and made it boring in places. That said, there are two graphic scenes that stand out, those being the instances of childhood sexual abuse. Though well-written, the first was blighted by the author’s real-time rant against her perpetrator. Don’t get me wrong, Karr is more than justified in harboring feelings of anger and resentment, but her memoir is not an appropriate public forum for such a personal censure. The second scene, though less inherently violent, is the more unsettling of the two because of the creepy, twisted, and languidly realistic (yet bizarrely artistic) depiction of this horrendous event. Though I almost couldn’t go on reading, because of the powerful realism and captivating writing, I must sourly elevate this book from three to three-and-a-half stars, even if that blasted emotional component remained stubbornly absent. Perhaps that is simply what happens when a child suffers this type of abuse at the hands of an adult. (As an aside, there was no explanation as to why the author’s mother left her sick eight-year-old daughter alone with a grown male babysitter, or who this man was. Was he a trusted neighbor or relative, or just some guy off the street? That absence of detail infuriated me almost as much as the scene itself.)

On a personal note, I generally don’t post negative reviews, whether I am in the minority or the majority. I know firsthand how upsetting it feels to be on the receiving end of them, and have often asked myself why readers would feel compelled to post harsh criticisms unless they’re purely peeved. (In those instances when I don’t like a book, I mark it “read” with no rating and leave it at that.) I therefore hope I will not get “trashed” for voicing a minority view on this one; I do so only to explain my three-star rating and with the stipulation that these are just my own opinions.

Profile Image for Lorna.
720 reviews420 followers
October 4, 2021
The Liar's Club by Mary Karr has been sitting on my shelf for many years. While I have read many memoirs, I must say that this is by far the best that I have ever read as Mary Karr describes her turbulent childhood in a very non-linear way. I was riveted to not only the book but to the family portrayed in the East Texas refinery town of Leechfield in the swampy rim of the Gulf. The Liar's Club was the ragtag group that met regularly in a bar where Joe Karr spun his stories to his drinking friends during his 'Liar's Club' meetings where he would bring 'Pokey.' Mary Marlene and her father shared a lot of comraderie in their love of fishing and hunting and in their love of stories.

But this was also the story of Mary Karr's mother's violent psychotic breakdown that opens the book when the author is seven and her sister, Lecia, is nine years old. And so we embark on an emotional journey as we begin to learn the truth of this family over the course of this book. While so much of this is heartbreaking, Mary Karr has such a fresh voice and beautfiul way of imparting the truth of her childhood. And she has such an endearing way of fleshing out the characters of her mother and father and her relationship to them as well as to her sister Lecia, that is piercing and unforgettable.

There are two more volumes to this trilogy that I am anxious to read. And here are some of my favorite quotations:

"Something in me had died when Grandma had, and while I didn't miss her one iota, I keenly felt the loss of my own trust in the world's order."

"The opera also tended to get Mother to hauling out art books. I can still see them stacked on the plywood next to her Flintstone jelly jar of vodka, the gold names in square letters on the big leather spines: Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne. (The pictures themselves were being seared into my head with all the intensity of childhood. When I stubmled on the actual paintings years later in museums, i often lapsed into that feeling that you get when stepping in your old grade school, of being tiny again in a huge and uncontrollable world--and yet the low-slung water fountains tell you that you're a giant now, Van Gogh's 'Bedroom at Arles,' when I stood before it at eighteen, seemed ridiculously small, yet intensely familiar.)"

"For the first time, I felt the power of my family's strangeness gave us over the neighbors. Those other grown-ups were scared. Not only of my parents but of me. My wildness scared them. Plus they guessed that I'd moved through houses darker than theirs. All my life I'd wanted to belong to their families, to draw my lunch bag from the simple light and order of their defrosted refrigerators."

"But it was more than that. Something about the Legion clarified who I was, made me solid inside, like when you twist the bincoular lens to the perfect depth and the figure you're looking at gets definite. Maybe I just like holding a place in such a male realm."
Profile Image for Angie.
204 reviews38 followers
June 21, 2009
This read like a Lifetime movie. Only instead of “based on a true story,” it actually is a true story.

And it’s supposed to be funny. I really didn’t see any humor in it a lot. I even have a dark sense of humor, but sorry, reading about how the author gets raped twice before the age of 10 and her mother goes crazy and scribbles out her face in lipstick and sets a huge gasoline fire in the backyard and burns all of her paintings and her two children’s clothing and toys and all the violence that was going on and the fact that these two little girls basically stayed with their alcoholic mother so she “wouldn’t get into more trouble”... that’s funny?

I think the author could have written the book better; it’s focused on her father, seeing as how he belonged to the Liar’s Club and it ends with his death, but most of the story involved the mother directly, and a lot seems to be left out. I don’t know what to think about this. It sounds like something you’d be better off telling your therapist.

Reading the low-star amazon reviews makes me happy. I’m not the only one who didn’t like this and questioned the verisimilitude of many of her statements.

This might have been the worst book I read this year.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Albert.
386 reviews26 followers
June 1, 2022
I read memoirs only very occasionally, but I had heard so much about this one that it has been on my list for quite a while. Supposedly when The Liars’ Club was published it reset the standard for memoirs and reinvigorated the genre. Mary Karr, who considers herself a poet first, wrote this memoir of her early life with her family, focusing primarily on the period when she was between 8 and 10. Mary’s mother, Charlie, was the strongest personality in the family but very undependable and unpredictable. Charlie clearly loved her daughters, but that love was not always apparent in her behavior. Despite their mother’s erratic behavior, Mary and her sister, Lecia (pronounced Lisa), clearly both of their parents. Much of this time in Mary’s and Lecia's lives was spent trying to safeguard their mother from herself.

Be forewarned, there are several scenes throughout this memoir that are very disturbing. I do not think of myself as easily bothered by what I read, but I was in several instance while reading this memoir. The memoir comes across as very honest, and Mary clearly spent time dredging her sister’s and mother’s memories in its creation, although she admits that at times her memory and her sister’s memory diverged, and she had to choose.

While I do not believe that reading The Liars’ Club will result in my reading more memoirs in the future, I felt that this one was worth my time, and I recommend it with the qualification about the disturbing content.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
Author 2 books36 followers
March 2, 2023
What a book. Mary Karr is salty and funny and brilliant and fierce. Such a big, big voice. She even made the last section work--and I was skeptical about a time jump. Fuck the haters who call this just another "misery memoir." It's too funny to be truly miserable. There's a reason why people still read this memoir decades later.
Profile Image for Joseph Sciuto.
Author 8 books134 followers
March 31, 2022
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway.

In short, one can never go wrong writing honestly and truthfully. It's what makes a great writer, and Mary Karr's memoir, "The Liars' Club," is a example of how honest and truthful writing can lead to literary greatness.

"The Liar's Club, is tragic...so tragic that at times it's totally funny. It's so funny that at times it is totally tragic.

The story follows the life of Mary Karr, her sister, mother and father from the time she is just four years old and her sister a few years older. Raised in East Texas, her family life is filled with turmoil and unspoken, hidden sorrows. Yes, they are what one might call a dysfunctional family, but there certainly exist bonds of love between all the main characters.

Ms. Karr has turned a memoir into a suspenseful, tragic, comedy. It reads more like a novel, with great characters, a story that keeps your interest through out, and the writing is nothing short of superb, honest, and trustworthy. I highly recommend.

Thank you Lorna for recommending this book
Profile Image for Anna Casanovas.
Author 44 books781 followers
November 7, 2019
Me resulta muy difícil puntuar este libro porque la técnica narrativa es absolutamente impecable, tanto la estructura como el lenguaje están elegidos con precisión y hay páginas que podrían utilizarse para clases de técnica literaria. Ahora bien, el argumento -y esto es la primera parte de una autobiografía- y en especial la manera de enfocarlo y de trasladarlo al lector no ha encajado nada bien conmigo. Es decir, sin puntúo la técnica le doy sin duda 5 estrellas, pero si puntúo lo que me ha hecho sentir le doy como mucho dos. Así que me decido por tres.
Este año me había propuesto leer no-ficción y poco a poco estoy descubriendo que dentro de este grupo lo que más me gusta son las autobiografías y gracias a esta he aprendido que para que me gusten los personajes tienen que "caerme bien". No es un buen criterio, es muy criticable, pero es el mío. En este caso, "El club de los mentirosos" esta escrito de una manera brillante y hay párrafos maravillosos, pero mientras la leía me daban ganas de gritarle cuatro cosas a la protagonista. En fin, cosas mías.
Si estáis interesados en leer una prosa perfecta, donde se nota por que la autora es una de las profesoras de literatura más reconocidas de EEUU, dad una oportunidad a esta historia. Si os gustan las autobiografías y no os importa leer problemas de "gente rica o acomodada y snob" (yo he descubierto que no lo soporto), os gustará.
Profile Image for Donald Powell.
559 reviews35 followers
January 8, 2021
A good book about the ravages of alcoholism/addiction and some about other forms of mental illness, especially as it relates to young children. My copy, bought new from Amazon, was marred by missing ink and had a small font. The diction and syntax were unusual, slowing my reading and causing some frustration. These matters are unique and endearing to many, often leading to the reputation of this book as humorous. Its sarcastic tone did evoke chuckles. This author's ability to make the reader feel the scene is well honed. She uses her sense of smell, a most evocative sense, to guide us through the trauma of her childhood. She seems amazingly well adjusted at this point for what she went through. She was obviously blessed with awesome intelligence and a desire to inquire, contemplate and analyze. Her command of the language is exemplary though her telling of her story was a struggle at times with the idioms, syntax and diction.
657 reviews59 followers
November 26, 2017
“Cuando la verdad resulta insoportable, es muy común que la mente la elimine”. Leyendo esta frase de la novela me resulta curiosa la homofonía de las palabras mente y mentira. Y es justamente lo contrario lo que hace este libro, eliminar la mentira para que salga a flote la miseria moral de la historia de una familia, pero también de un país salvaje e injusto. Estas memorias de infancia de la autora, que con el artificio, en el buen sentido de la palabra, de una prosa meticulosa de la mejor ficción, en la que nunca sobra ni una palabra, y la inmensa paradoja de narrar la tragedia con el mejor sentido del humor, es un inmenso retrato colectivo del reverso tenebroso del sueño americano.
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
April 8, 2018
Did not finish.

I was 75 pages into this awful thing, and I have no clue why it was so highly praised. The author grew up poor, with difficult parents. I grew up poor with difficult parents, as did most of the kids I knew. It's really not that unusual. Or interesting. I believe that people who want to write a memoir should ask themselves the following questions:

a.) Am I wildly famous, whereby I have reason to suspect that people will want to read about every single thing I ever did, and every thought I ever had?

b.) If I am I NOT wildly famous, have I accomplished something amazing; or did something really unusual, incredible or miraculous happen to me?

c.) If neither a or b above applies to me, am I able to write about my mundane life in a hilarious, relatable way?

Then, if the author is unable to answer YES to any of these questions, it should be against the law for them to write a memoir.

To be fair, I guess it is possible that b.) was true of Mary Karr, but she bored me to death for 75 pages so I will never find out.
Profile Image for Mihaela Oprea.
67 reviews28 followers
May 23, 2020
Дети не должны взрослеть в 7-8 лет. Дети не должны расплачиваться за грехи своих родителей. Но чаще всего все происходит совсем наоборот. И чаще всего дети винят себя в том, что мама пьёт, а отец пропадает в каждый день после работы в завсегдатом баре. Дети не рассказывают своим родителям что с ними происходит нечто ужасное, потому что родителям и так плохо. А после таких недоговорённостей всегда появляются на свет такие мемуары.
Грустно, ведь дети ни в чем не виноваты и им так мало нужно для счастья: внимание, ласка и просто БЫТЬ рядом.
Profile Image for Vanessa.
463 reviews302 followers
January 8, 2022
I can see why this book is often suggested as a memoir must read. Much like her father in this book, Mary Karr is a born storyteller, her uncanny knack for describing vividly her childhood memories, her astute observations are always brilliant. Although often describing many hardships during her childhood the stories were peppered with delightful anecdotes which really endeared me to all the flawed characters in her life. Her father being a prominent standout. I really enjoyed her journey through childhood and am eager for the continuation of Part 2 & 3 of her life story.
Profile Image for Chris.
17 reviews2 followers
June 4, 2013
The first sentence in Stephen King's "On Writing" praises Mary Karr's "The Liars Club" as an example of excellent writing. So I thought: recommendation from a good source. It is a painful coming-of-age autobiographical narrative written from the adult author's point of view. Impossible as it may seem, it is told with look-back wisdom, love, and hard humor. Karr is an excellent writer. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and wholeheartedly recommend it.
Profile Image for Shannon Miller.
343 reviews2 followers
November 15, 2013
On page 73 and yet it feels like I'm on page 1,000,073. I think it would take me another 3-years to finish this. *Throws in the towel*
Profile Image for britt_brooke.
1,333 reviews97 followers
August 10, 2017
"That's how God answered my prayers: I learned to make us all into cartoons."

There's something to be said about a memoir written by an actual writer. I know you know what I mean.

Karr's descriptions make you feel like you're in the story, like you knew her family. Her writing is raw, but lovely. I'm a fan.
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