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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Lit: A Memoir - Mary Karr This is the third memoir that Karr has written about her life. Since she has not been President or a great military general, we know she must describe her life in considerable detail in order to fill three books. We learn from this book that she's had a lot of experience telling her life's story and dredging through the depths of her feelings because she has spent considerable time doing both in counseling sessions with mental health therapists. A book based on this kind of material is not the sort of stuff that would normally interest me. However, this book has been praised by many reviewers as being the ultimate example of good memoir writing. So I wanted to see for myself, and yes I found her to be a good writer. The book kept my interest even though I may not be predisposed to appreciate this type of story.

Her story recounts her painful journey to overcome her compulsion to consume alcohol. Before this victory is achieved the story is one of slow disintegration. One would think that once sobriety is achieved that everything would be better. But ironically, once she's free from liquor she experiences suicidal depression. A story such as this of an adult drinking their life into ruin and misery is not as satisfying as other memoirs where a talented young person overcomes the handicap of bad parents to become a successful adult (e.g. The Glass House, Angela's Ashes or perhaps Karr's first memoir, which I haven't read, Liars' Club).

One thing I did appreciate about this book is that it comes about as close as is possible to explaining the motivations behind self-destructive behavior (but it's still irrational). However, I want to acknowledge, and I'm thankful, that she checked herself into a hospital prior to doing physical harm to herself when she felt driven to suicide. So the book can serve as a positive and inspirational guide to those suffering similar trials.

One interesting thing about this book is that she spends considerable time debating with herself, as a confirmed atheist, about her seeking help from a "higher power" to overcoming her alcoholism. It's a dialog filled with humor, irony and pathos. (UNBELIEVERS BEWARE! This book may threaten your faith.)

I have to admire her willingness to say some unflattering things about herself that, frankly, most of us wouldn't put into our own memoirs. She also refrains from bad-mouthing her ex's (hubby or boy-friends) which I presume she could have. She reflects enough on her childhood in this book to make it clear that it was a dozy. The irony is that if she had been spared from her horrible upbringing, she wouldn't have been able to write her best-selling memoir of her childhood, The Liars' Club. And if she didn't have ghosts from her past to conquer, she wouldn't have been able to write this book.

So where does this title come from? From various reviews I have learned that it is a triple pun: lit as in literature, lit as in intoxicated, and lit as in spiritual enlightenment.