Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mary Karr

My latest find is Mary Karr, famous for her memoir trilogy: The Liar's Club, Cherry, and Lit.  I've wanted to read the first for a long time, but was put off by the criticism I'd heard that, despite being a great writer, she'd tended to frankly whine about her usually-deranged mother too much.  That would just be too much for me to take, and would also be an exercise in bad faith, if you'll pardon my existentialism.  So I put it off, and waited...

Then I picked up Lit, which I thought was short for literature, or maybe a gung-ho "lit out for the west" reference, either spiritually, or spatially, or psychologically or emotionally.  Or whatever.  Shows you how much of a square I am.  Or maybe just how much I've not been "lit" since college.  I'll bet she'll hit on all those references after awhile, but rest assured that, at first, it's about how she and her mother have been too often drunk.

But it's also a lot more than that.  The writing was soooooo good, that I immediately bought it, and used my Borders 33% coupon, Borders Bucks, and teacher discount to get the trilogy--all for about twenty-two bucks.  Not bad.  (No wonder Borders isn't doing well.)  The writing is so good, I thought I'd share some random snippets, both from her own passages and from her many references.  Enjoy.  (All of these are from Lit.)

Standing in the shower, I feel something on the back of my leg that turns out to be my ass.  (257)

He tells me the story of a writer who...opened to the flyleaf [of his own remaindered book] only to discover his own signature above the note To Mum and Dad...(169)

Man exists only insomuch as he is separated from his surroundings...It may be wonderful to mix with the landscape, but to do so is the end of the tender ego.---Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin (161).

Well, if God doesn't exist, who's laughing at us?--Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (124).

You wear a mask, and your face grows to fit it.---George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant" (61).

You start with a darkness to move through
but sometimes the darkness moves through you.---Dean Young, "Bright Window" (34)

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem,

and it was miserable, for that's how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature.---William Matthews, "Mingus at the Showplace" (11).

Not one thing on the planet operates as I would have it, and only here can I plot my counterattacks. (7)

I am leaning the top of my head against the door when I spot for the zillionth time--the burnt-out lightbulb I fail every day to change, the cartoon idea I every night fail to get. (10)

On my fun scale, it ranks with the Nuremberg Trials. (8)

There are tons more, but that'll have to do.  Don't think from the number of references that the book is mostly just her quoting other people's good things.  She writes more than enough of her own.  Very, very good writing.  Every sentence zings and has separate importance.  Each one stands alone.  The wit (and mood) is razor sharp.  Very stylized, but done so well that you don't realize it while reading.  For any writer, and/or for anyone who's known a crazy, this one is for you.

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