Mary Karr’s LIT

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.

I will.

This entry was posted in books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Posted January 2, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Permalink


    We were at Wesleyan together. I was Joanne Smith’s alcoholic roommate. We’ve both been transformed since then.

    I read LIT in one and a half sittings and found it astonishing and also because she got sober in the same rooms as I did in Cambridge, though ten years later. Some of the characters are known to me and were never so vivid as when remembered by her.

    Anyway, I just bumped into this comment after a twitter search and felt compelled to leave a comment. I have followed your story for many years.

    Congratulations on your successes and thank you for the revelations and insights that you have so graciously shared.

    Nora Smith
    (The Rev. Nora Smith Wesleyan ’80; Brandeis (finally) ’81)

  2. John Doe
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately…I don’t think people actually DO understand what “I’m searching for god’s love,” or “I”m an alcoholic,” means. And more often than you’d think, especially in the case of alcoholism (or in moving towards god in an non-Christian manner) people actually do say, “No you’re not. You’re crazy.” The trans journey can certainly be a rough one, but really everyone’s journey is a rough one. I think there are plenty of topics that are deadly serious that people find hard to talk about without humor. And maybe that’s okay…so’s long as we do talk about them. It may not sell as many books, but I suspect the most interesting (and disturbing) things about you have got nothing to do with being trans. Those are the interesting stories I’d like to hear next.

  3. Gina James
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    Well,heres another book I need to read.Thanks for the review.
    Hope alls well your way.>Gina<

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  • The Boylan Family, summer 2010

    DSC_0063 "You hang around our family, you learn all kinds of stuff."
  • Will Forte as Jennifer Finney Boylan on “Saturday Night Live”

    WiFo-Jennifer Finney Boylan-1
  • Jenny with Barbara Walters, December, 2008

  • Jenny atop Maine’s Mount Katahdin

    2036947979_34bfbec240 August, 2002.
  • Surrounded

    boylanWith President Clinton and Maine's Governor John Baldacci, fall 2006.
  • JFB and Edward Albee


    Edward had been my teacher at Johns Hopkins in the winter of 1986. He visited Colby in fall, 2007. As we took our leave of each other, he kissed me on both cheeks and said, "We have done well. You and I."

  • Jenny and her teacher, the great John Barth


    Jack was my professor at JHU when I did my thesis, back in the day. After many years, I can now confidently say I finally understand his definition of plot. Which is, of course, "the perturbation of an unstable homeostatic system and its catastrophic restoration to a new and complexified equilibrium."