Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Liars' Club

The Liars' Club: A Memoir
by Mary Karr

I finished reading the entire second half of The Liars' Club this morning in a frenzy, wanting to finish it in time for Book Klub, which is not even until Thursday night, but I am already getting anxious about the number of people that are descending upon my apartment, and will I have enough seating and enough rotisserie chicken to feed them all?

The Liars' Club is a memoir of a small-town childhood in the early 1960's in Texas. When you pick up a book such as this one, you know, before even opening the first page, that the writer's family was somehow dysfunctional, his/her childhood somehow messed up. The question is, how?

Karr's mother, a would-be painter, is an alcoholic. Depressed. She reads from a pile of books on existentialism and philosophy and laments her glory years in New York City. She has been married more times than Karr can fathom. Karr calls her Nervous. At the very end, you learn about the mother's true story, and I just cannot decide if it absolves her or not.

Karr's father, also a heavy drinker, is a union man working for an oil refinery. He and his buddies get together to drink beers and tell stories -- the Liars' Club they call it.

Her slightly older sister, Lecia, is really her center of gravity. Pronounced "Lisa", in my head I kept saying "Leesha, oh wait no, Lisa" as I read. Annoying.

The cast of characters also includes a strict and frightening grandmother who has cancer. An unidentified rapist and an identified one.

What amazes me every time that I read a memoir is the amount of detail and color the story has, even if the story takes place during childhood, when the writer may or may not have understood or known everything that was really going on at the time. This one is no exception. For most of this story, Karr is between six and eight years old. In the Acknowledgments, she thanks her mother, who for two years answered all questions freely and helped with research for the book. Unfortunately, this story did not really make me think about anything other than how distrubing it is.

3 out of 5

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