I received Mary Karr’s LIT for Xmas and fell deeply into it over the course of the next several days. And when I was done I had that wonderful, awful sense of completion and bereavement, knowing that there was no more. So immediately started re-reading it. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
On the unlikely chance that anyone’s missed THE LIARS CLUB, or CHERRY, Mary Karr is the best memoirist in the country, period. LIT is harrowing and amazing, and very different from the earlier two; this story is about the descent into alcoholism and the search for god. Both of which feel new in Karr’s hands, and which inspired me to think a great deal about my own search. I’ll keep this brief, but one of the things LIT made me think about was this: that I really ought to stop stalking the world looking for forgiveness for everything I have befouled, because the only person who can forgive me is me.
Mary has a lovely line in one of her poems (in the collection, “Viper Rum”). Empty your self of self/Kneel down and listen.
LIT also made me think about my own ethos as a memoirist– her search for truth is her great north star. Whereas for me, I always knew the truth, but feared that no one would believe me. Also, if you say “I’m searching for god’s love,” or “I”m an alcoholic,” people know what you’re talking about. But if you say, “I’m transgender,” lots of people will say, “What’s that?” or even, “No you’re not. You’re crazy.” So as a writer I have had to walk a tightrope, being comic about things that are deadly serious, in order to win folks over. I am very proud of my two nonfiction books, but writing them was grueling. I have more stories to tell, but I don’t think I can write any more memoir; I can’t imagine going back to that raw and vulnerable place again in order to do the writing… and then the subsequent public spectacles in order to sell the book, having to be so vulnerable while the television lights shine down. It all makes me exhausted.
The coolest twist about reading LIT, for me, was coming home (we’d been at my mom’s house) after Xmas to find a package waiting for me on the front step. And there was a signed copy of the book, sent to me by a fellow who’s a mutual friend of mine and the author’s– a lovely man whose father plays a part in the book, a professor who managed, in part, to save Mary’s life when she was young and lost. On the title page, she’d written, To Jenny Boylan. STAY LIT.