Mary Karr sets down a scorching memoir about growing up in a poor, rural town in East Texas. Her mother is an unstable, manic-depressive alcoholic. Her father works as an oil refiner, and spends his spare time playing pool with his “liars club” of friends. Sometimes a young Mary tagged along to the liars club, and credits her unflappable storytelling ability to their outrageous tall tales about women and big fish and the good old crazy old days. But mostly, Mary and her sister Lecia take care of themselves, whether it’s getting in fistfights with the boys or managing their mother as best they can.
Karr writes in a kind of mishmash poetry. She hurls in vivid Texas slang, the blunt vulgarity of children, and long lovely passages of reflective description. The book deals with tough subjects, including plenty of abuse. But unlike some other memoirs I’ve read, Karr handles her past in a wise, analytical way that reveals her dedication to presenting her memories and issues for literary, not personal, gain. While she acknowledges her feelings, she’s not self-pitying, nor does she unload judgements. She clears through the internal mess that other writers get mired in, and simply tells the stories. It’s the farthest thing from simple for a memoirist to do.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. (Yes, this review is backlogged from 2013.) Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.