Lit by Mary Karr
Read: 4 - 21 August 2020
Release year: 2009
This was the Mary Karr's first book I read and I truly loved it. I know... I also don't understand why I never read The Liars' Club before, but that one is now high on my 'To Be Read' list. Lit is actually the third memoir written by this author. The Liars' Club explores Mary's troubled childhood, Cherry covers her late adolescence and early womanhood, while Lit is about her problems with alcohol, motherhood and marriage, and her religious journey.
Most of the book is about Mary's problems with alcohol and her recovery from alcoholism. It sounds horrible, as this is a serious disease, but her writing style made this book very entertaining. Mary doesn't feel sorry for herself and just tells it how it is, ugly or not. Her writing is raw, honest and direct, but at the same time sarcastic and funny. Like Lucia Berlin, she writes down horrible experiences in a very enjoyable way. In the beginning, for example, she tries to justify her drinking time and again.
...my hand twists off a beer cap as I tell myself that a beer isn't really a drink after all. So I have another after that to speed preparing the pot roast, and maybe a third. Before we head to the park, I tuck two more beer bottles in my coat pocket, plus one in my purse alongside a juice box. Coming home at dusk, I find smoke billowing from the stove door's edges, the alarm screaming. I yank out the forgotten roast, black and unidentifiable as any roadkill. Mary's pot-roast recipe? Drink a six-pack then ring the fire department.
And another quote where she is justifying her drinking:
Only drink beer. Only drink wine. Only drink weekends. Only drink after five. At home. With others. When I only drink with meals, I cobble together increasingly baroque dinners, always uncorking some medium-shitty vintage at about three in the afternoon while Dev plays on the kitchen floor. The occasional swig is culinary duty, right?
On her road to recovery from alcohol, Mary is advised to pray. However, at the time, she wasn't religious at all and couldn't see how something like prayer would help her stay sober. I absolutely loved how brutally honest she was about this whole thing.
This an unbeliever might call self-hypnosis; a believer might say it's the presence of God. Let's call it a draw and concede that the process of listing my good fortune stopped my scrambling fear, and in relinquishing that, some solid platform slid under me.
After much encouragement, Mary decides to give prayer a chance after all. At first it turns out to be a great way to organise her thoughts and realise the good things that are happening in her life. Slowly but surely she finds her faith in the Catholic church. I am not religious myself, so it was very entertaining to read how reluctant she was at first.
I'm trying to start hearing the word God without some reflexive flinch that coughs out the word idiot.
Mary's troubled relationship with her unstable, alcoholic mother is also discussed in this book. Several times she refers to one of her childhood memories where she and her sister were threatened with a knife by their mother. I've heard that this event is told in more detail in The Liars' Club, so I can't wait to read that one to learn more about it.
I ask what she was thinking on the night in question, and she says, I just couldn't imagine bringing two girls up in a world where they do such awful things to women. So I decided to kill you both, to spare you.
This time, her mother is getting sober and turning her life around. However, I feel she still isn't ready to completely be there for her daughters. Sometimes she is very present in Mary's life and helps take care of her grandson, but at other times she doesn't have the right mindset for this. The following quote perfectly describes her relationship with her mother in my opinion.
After she hangs up, I cry because part of me still wants to drag her behind my car. But the other part still wants to crawl into her lap.
Just like Lucia Berlin's A Manual for Cleaning Women, I absolutely devoured this book. Both women have a very direct way of telling their story. They don't edit themselves and are not afraid to show their true colours. These books are realistic and show that people are not perfect, but also that is OK not to be perfect. If I had to recommend a book to someone, these two are on the top of my list.