Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Recommended Read - Lit: a Memoir by Mary Karr

Non-fiction. Published, 2009

If any book ever depicted resurrection power, Lit by Mary Karr qualifies. This is a story that takes the reader through a person's life from virtual death to victory over the forces of virtual death.

Karr grew up in soggy, musty East-Texas lowlands. Her brilliant, creative, educated, but paranoid mother is incapable of nurturing her daughters. However, she is capable of neglect and even violence as she descends deeper and deeper into alcoholism. Karr's brilliant, creative, undereducated, and comparatively dependable father is unable to rise above his circumstances. In the end, his lifetime of heavy drinking also culminates in alcoholism.

Karr’s remarkable earlier memoirs, The Liars Club and Cherry, describe her childhood and adolescence respectively. After hearing an interview and reading one review, I supposed Lit would begin with the turn around. Not so.

After a brief foray into the hippie world of California, Karr pursues academia. An interesting detail here is that, although she cannot escape the demons of her childhood, several friends from schools and professional encounters maintain a relationship with her throughout her life-and-death struggles. Meanwhile, she receives limited recognition as a poet. And she marries the man of her dreams—handsome, from a more-than-respectable background, dependable, steady. He's also emotionally distant.

When their son is born, the baby becomes the center of her life. But at that point Karr begins to unravel at every level. Never having received mothering herself, already careening down a path of self-destruction, and overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy, she escapes from the responsibilities of motherhood by descending the alcoholic pattern of her background.

Reading about a drunk mother's inability to care for the child she loves more than life itself—let alone the demise of her marriage and the difficultly of her professional life—is a painful. Karr is brutally honest about herself and about human foibles in general.

An almost-deadly car accident forces her to face reality, and she connects with Alcoholics Anonymous. But her cure isn’t quick and easy. She'd been an avowed athetist since childhood. One of her mentors points out that, for someone who didn't believe in God, she sure was angry with Him.

Karr describes her friendships with alcoholics and, later, her felow-patients in a mental institution where she's treated for depression. They are without judgment and priceless. Her poetic sensibilities here and throughout the narrative often took my breath away.

Attempts at prayer are initially directed toward an unidentified higher power—and they’re not gracious. But, although she doesn’t want to admit it, prayer makes a positive difference and she experiences a measure of victory.

At the request of her son, now in grade school, she begins attending churches. One—a church attended by many of her colleagues at the university—taught there was no evil. She knew better.

She finally settles—still unconvinced on the issue of Jesus and God—in a Catholic church that accepts her as she is but that doen’t sugarcoat the realities of sin. The concept of salvation from sin by accepting the death of Christ was an added bonus that hardly factored in until later.

Karr's pen is sharp, her humor is dark, her language is often vulgar. Surely God would strike someone dead for talking to Him the way she talks to Him. Instead, He draws her to Himself. And while He draws her to Himself, He empowers her to overcome her addiction.

Reading Lit was, in some ways, a traumatic experience, but I came away with a renewed picture of God’s grace. Grace that both covers sin and that gives people the strength to stand against it. That’s resurrection power.

I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and TEstimonials in Advertising."

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