I feel like I’ve read a lot of dysfunctional family memoirs lately, but this was probably one of the best-written memoirs (most dysfunctional families), up there with The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.
“Those are only rumors of suffering. Real suffering has a face and a smell. It lasts in the most intense form no matter what you drape over it. And it knows your name.”
Mary Karr grew up in the 1960s, mostly in a poisonous east Texas oil town called Leechfield, although she did spend a bit of time in Colorado. Her mother married a total of 7 times — twice to Mary’s father — and had other children that Mary didn’t know about for years. She and her sister Lecia were very close, however, and spent a lot of time together, fighting against the neighborhood bullies and trying to keep their parents from killing each other. Mary’s mother’s alcoholism and depression went into full swing after the death of Mary’s evil witch of a grandmother, which led to the move to Colorado and even more trouble within her parents’ marriage.
Throughout all she endures (and it’s quite a bit — sexual assault from a neighbor boy and also a babysitter, violence and threats from her drunken mother, emotional abuse from her grandmother), Mary keeps her tough outer shell. Looking back, she tells the story with a lot of dark humor, making it clear that while she had some hard times, she also felt loved during her childhood. She was particularly close to her father, who treated her like one of the guys and took her fishing and hunting regularly. What struck me the hardest was a decision her and her sister made — at about 8 and 10 — to stay with their mother when their parents divorced. They figured that their dad could take care of himself, but that their mother needed looking after. That pretty much sums up the family dynamic.
I’m curious to find out what happened to Mary as a teen — the story focuses mostly on her childhood until her parents’ reconciliation, then jumps forward to her early 20s when her father fell ill. I see that she wrote a sequel to The Liars’ Club called Cherry, which I’m eager to read.