Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lit, a memoir, by Mary Karr

Confession is one of the main tenets of Catholicism, and this memoir by Mary Karr seems to be both the confession and the penance she pays in her late conversion to Catholicism at the final third of the book.

Is there such a thing as being too honest?  Karr confesses to her lifelong addiction to alcohol, and all the ugly events that occurred during her life because of her alcoholism.  She's brutally honest, which takes a ton of guts, because I really couldn't stand her as I read it.   She wrote this as a form of atonement to her son for her years of poor mothering and distance. 

Essentially she had a tragic childhood filled with ugliness and pain.  She longs to be a poet, to find a way to make magic with words and leave her mark on the world.  But given that, she spends very little time discussing her actual development of poetry, instead she professes her love for the 'look' of poets:  the starving artist, the tortured soul who is misunderstood and unappreciated, almost like she's reaching for the costume.  It seems like she wants to join the poet's club rather than actually be a poet.  Maybe her real gift is in this form of writing, the memoir.  It's her third.  She has no trouble with words in this respect.

She writes well, in a witty, self-deprecating way.  She doesn't ask for sympathy or pity, and in many ways that would be hard to give.  Is it wrong to say she's selfish and rude, when she's gone so far to be this honest?  Because that's the impression she gives.  She does have her conversion at the end, which I found a little bit offputting, because again she seems to want to join a club rather than really feel a spiritual connection.  And yet she points out the all people have a spiritual need, and I do agree with that.  But her roller coaster ride with finding sobriety makes her unpleasant and irritating.  No doubt some of it had to do with the alcohol.

It's just very difficult to tolerate her reeling off stories of how often she drove drunk with her son in the car, how she avoided caring for her sick son,  and how being alone with her child was boring and a chore.  I don't get that, alcoholism or not.  So many times she put him in danger, when she had the resources to get help and refused it.  When counselors told her to count her blessings, she couldn't think of any:  not the sweet little boy she had, nor the home, the loving husband, etc.  When asked what she wanted in life, her answer was "more money".  And while she complained about being judged unfairly, she was the most judgemental of all.  It seems so out of touch. 

In all, it was a good read in terms of learning about alcoholism and the recovery process.  There were a few gems of wisdom in it, as when a counselor told her if she worries she will be judged, she should ask herself 'what do you base that on?'  If she admits it's her own imagination and worry, than it has to be dismissed.    She's repeatedly told to stop imagining what people think of her, and to realize that everyone is worrying about their own problems, not hers.  All her worries about not measuring up or fitting in, which she used alcohol to mask, had to go in order for her to not feel the need for the alcohol.

I admire her candor, and respect her efforts to make amends.  I don't agree with all her premises at the end, but I'm glad she got her life together.

1 comment:

  1. Tough but fair, Amy. The book worked well for me because, I think, it is such a rare account of a spiritual journey and so relatively open.