The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr, isn’t so much a memoir as a story of survival. Karr recalls her rags-to-riches-to-rags upbringing in Leechfield, Texas (and later Colorado) in the early 60s–a place where “a slow race” was the definitive competition among the kids–where you pedaled just slow enough on your two-wheel bike to be in last place, without tipping over.
Next to her sister Lecia (pronounced “Lisa”), Karr’s father Pete, a hard-drinking oil refinery worker who spent his life punching the clock and paying his union dues, was the most stable influence in her life. Her alcoholic, pill-popping mother, Charlie Marie, was given to dramatic outbursts. She ignored her kids and longed for the glamour of New York in the 40s.
Karr’s recall is vivid and detailed–so consistently detailed, that as a reader I sometimes questioned where the memoirist left off and the storyteller began. For a person who experienced several traumatic events–rape at age seven, sexual assault later on, and her mother’s violent mental breakdown–you’d think you’d want to forget as much of your childhood as possible. But The Liars’ Club is, as Karr notes, about healing “…through exposure.” Through writing the book, Karr found that her family’s “…distant catastrophes became somehow manageable. Catharsis, the Greeks call it.”
The book takes its name from Pete Karr’s group of buddies who met to drink and shoot shit. The card-table lies he told were the most benign in the book–exaggerations and half-truths about his upbringing and experiences. Charlie Marie Karr’s lies were altogether different, the kind of lying American poet Adrienne Rich said is done “with silence.” The silence Charlie Marie kept after her first husband left one day with their two young kids nearly destroyed her, until she too, found her distant catastrophes somehow manageable by exposing them to Karr during a Marguerita-soaked mother-daughter evening.
This book is worth your time.