Wednesday, August 3, 2011

July's book of the month: LIT by Mary Karr

Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr's relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up--as only Mary Karr can tell it.
(From the review)

I thought I might not be able to relate to this story. It's written by a middle-age woman about the impact of a miserable childhood, the struggles of parenting her young son, a languishing marriage, and the lure of alcoholism. But I was wrong. I was right there with her, every guarded and garish step of the way.

Mary Karr's anxious, unwilling exposure to prayer and her experience of faith is the best I've ever read. Not until she'd hit rock bottom did she allow herself to consider the possibility of a Higher Power. She made a slow progression toward belief, and fought tooth and nail along the way.

In Lit, I found a familiar topic examined from a completely foreign perspective. For someone like me, steeped in church life and Christian-y language, the book strikes a nerve. I grew up attending Sunday School, participating in church activities, and speaking comfortably in groups about prayer, faith, and salvation. For several years now, I've resisted all that "involvement," and tend to think of God as a familiar but distant relative prone to surprise visits, lavish gifts, and long periods of silence. So Mary Karr's new belief as an adult, accompanied by cynicism, resistance, and much eye-rolling really appealed to me.

My little sprout of faith often feels like a high-maintenance house plant, fading for lack of attention. But Mary Karr describes faith in a way that sounds more like a fallen tree. Her story doesn't conjure up images of grape leaves or stalks of wheat. A more appropriate symbol for her conversion is a horizontal tree trunk blocking the path, impossible to ignore. She reached a point of despair in her marriage, as a parent, and as an alcoholic where she couldn't avoid God anymore.

Another thing I love about this book is that you won't find it on the shelves of your local Family-Friendly-Christian-Bookstore-Full-of-Fish-Shaped-Jewelry. There's too many swear words in it for that. Plus, it doesn't end with a syrupy conclusion of prosperity, happiness, and a life of ease. The final chapter recaps all that she's learned about relationships and love.

Lit also convinces me that poets make the best memoirists. Not one wasted word.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great book. I hear a lot of "rock bottom" stories with my involvement at Celebrate Recovery at my church.
    I love the uprooted tree image. What a great way to look at it.