cover image Lit: A Memoir

Lit: A Memoir

Mary Karr, . . Harper, $25.99 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-06-191813-1

Karr returns with her third account (after The Liar's Club and Cherry ) of her dark and drunken years as a newlywed and new mother, written to help her son get “the whole tale” of their early years together. Before she wrote memoirs, Karr was driven with a vagabond spirit toward poetry, whose origins she traces to the rural colloquialisms of her Texas roots. That poetic sensibility infuses every sentence of her story with an alliterative and symbolic energy, conjuring echoes of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and occasionally, Sylvia Plath. She even marries a fellow poet, a moneyed and controlling man named Warren. Unlike Plath, however, Karr's impulse toward self-destruction originates more from the example set by her larger-than-life, emotionally stunted parents, who were often her drinking partners. Her slow trudge toward writing success and her marriage to yet another man who comes from wealth set off her drinking in earnest. Soon she's drinking daily at all hours, hiding it in shame. Years later she obtains sobriety but not mental health, and checks into a hospital after a halfhearted suicide attempt. What heals her most deeply, however, is when she opens herself to prayer. Fortunately, Karr's wry wit and deft prose do not render her slow conversion to Catholicism in a sentimental or proselytizing manner. (Nov.)