The Liars' Club/Mary Karr: Reflections

Thursday, May 17, 2012

First published in 1995, The Liars' Club was nothing short of a ricochet memoir—an event of a book, a story told with such lacerating equanimity and devastating particularity that anyone who knew memoir, loved memoir, celebrated memoir had soon made the book their own.

Except for me.  I chose to wait.  I knew, instinctively, that if I read this book too soon I might not have room to define the memoir form for myself, to make my own books in my own virginal book-making way.  I had to glance away before I could glance toward.

Over these past three days, I have done little but read, admire, and privately exclaim over The Liars' Club.  Mary Karr grows up living the hardest possible scrabble of a life, in a poisonous town, with a Nervous mother, with a daddy who excels at big, foggy stories among menfolk at The Liar's Club, with a grandmother's whose dying from cancer is an unrelieved grotesquerie, and whose fake leg with its fake shoe terrifies a child who is herself ornery as anything, except when nobody's looking. Karr knows when to use the past tense and when to wing at us with the present.  She understands that in a story this full of snakes and madness, accidents and fires, the crawl of sugar ants up the arm of a dying woman, she will only gain our trust by saying, sometimes, that maybe her memory has been fudged, or maybe her sister recalls it better, or maybe she'll just have to leave that part blank because her thoughts went blank at that particularly crucial moment.  People write about The Liars' Club, and they write about its funniness, its love, and that's quite a trick, if you ask me.  It's quite a trick to look back on what Mary Karr looks back on—poverty, abuse, hurting of every measure, danger—and come up with a story written not to tattle on what was done, not to complain, not to suggest that the author had it hard up, See?, but to try to understand what breed of sadness, heartache, or shatter might lie at the bottom of her mother's supreme but never evil oddness.

And look.  Of course I'm a sucker for gorgeous prose.  It's there, on every page.
That morning, when I woke up lying under the back slant of the windshield, the world smelled not unlike a wicked fart in a close room.  I opened my eyes.  In the fields of gator grass, you could see the ghostly outline of oil rigs bucking in slow motion.  They always reminded me of rodeo riders, or of some huge servant creatures rising up and bowing down to nothing in particular.  In the distance, giant towers rose from each refinery, with flames that turned every night's sky an odd, acid-green color.  The first time I saw a glow-in-the-dark rosary, it reminded me of those five-story torches that circled the town at night.  Then there were the white oil-storage tanks, miles of them, like the abandoned eggs of some terrible prehistoric insect.



1 comments:

Lilian Nattel said...

That's wonderful writing--I never read the Liars Club. It's on my list now.

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