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The Liars' Club (1995)

by Mary Karr

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3,426742,681 (3.75)116
The author, a poet, recounts her difficult childhood growing up in a Texas oil town.
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Showing 1-5 of 69 (next | show all)
I'm not sure why I picked up this 1995 memoir at a Friends of the Library book sale some years back. Maybe it was the award sticker on the cover. The Liars' Club has been sitting on my TBR shelf for a long time, read only because I'm trying to clear that shelf off. It's yet another dysfunctional family memoir, too wordy (320 pages) and boring. I only read as much as I did (the first part, "Texas, 1961," 171 pages, and the third and last part, "Texas Again, 1980," 45 pages) because I also grew up in southeast Texas in the same era, albeit Houston and not "Leechfield," an oil refinery town near Port Arthur which is really Groves, where author Mary Karr was born in 1955 and lived much of her childhood. Not enough references to anything I remember, though, as well as not interesting and not funny. Not recommended. ( )
  riofriotex | Oct 10, 2020 |
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.
2 vote AngeH | Jan 2, 2020 |
There's just something about Mary.

She tells stories from a turbulent handful of years in her childhood, then casually ends by revealing an almighty secret that twists her (and our) perspective on everything we've just read about.

Karr's use of dialect, both in narration and in dialogue, is absolutely pitch perfect (perhaps because it's the way she speaks outside of books? I'd like to know). She sinks just far enough into an east Texas twang and uses precisely the right amount and type of metaphor that we feel completely present in her 1960s oil boom town, but are still convinced that she's outgrown the way of life she had there.

She also applies a deft pen to one of the stickier memoir-writer's conundrums: how to tell about the awful things your parents have done to you while communicating what good people they were. I loved her parents, and hated them. And as I loved them and hated them, I did so with the realization that Karr had me right where she wanted me at any given moment. If I detested her grandmother, it was only because her 7-year old self detested her for 7-year old self reasons. One of the tools Karr uses to temper her own edge-of-the-spectrum opinions is telling us what her sister Lecia thinks of things. Though kid-Mary usually scoffs at Lecia's slightly more mature views, the reader knows that grownup-Mary has included them on purpose to balance out what her character has offered us.

There's trauma without self-pity, compassion without sentimentality, and good Lord, there's humor. Karr's voice is so funny, sometimes I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry.

The Liars' Club is a benchmark for memoir-writing. ( )
  rhowens | Nov 26, 2019 |
Fantastic memoir. Depressing as all hell. Not a book to read in a sitting, but definitely worth the digestive effort. ( )
  schufman | Jul 20, 2019 |
I was pleased with the way this memoir came full circle! ( )
  trayceetee | Dec 23, 2018 |
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My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark.
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The author, a poet, recounts her difficult childhood growing up in a Texas oil town.

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