How much do you remember from the time you were nine years old? More than likely, those memories include a few lucid moments, lots of imagery and some emotion, but not much else. However, if we are to believe Mary Karr, author of the critically acclaimed memoir The Liars’ Club, she can recall entire conversations, word for word, as well as a dazzling number of detailed situations from her early childhood. This, of course, is the problem with most memoirs. “Recall” too little and your memoir will be pretty boring. Recall too much and you run the risk of being thought an embellisher or flat-out liar. However, if you can skip over the disbelief you may feel when reading of the vivid recollections of the childhood Karr experienced, The Liars’ Club is a pretty interesting read.
Detailing a portion of her childhood growing up in swampy Leechfield, Texas (and later in Colorado), with her older sister Lecia, her crazy oft-wedded mother Charlie and her short-tempered father Pete, The Liars’ Club is feisty, scary, heartbreaking and funny at the same time. Though it make take a little while to get into, you’ll soon find yourself trying to empathize with a young girl who watched her evil old Grandma die before her eyes, who was raped by a high school boy before she reached ten years old and who was woken up more nights than not by her parents’ screaming, often physical brawls. You’ll also see a girl who developed an incredibly strong bond with her partner in this horror show, her old sister Lecia, and a girl who was obviously loved by her parents, crazy and abusive as they were.
The Liars’ Club is meant to detail just a slice of young Mary’s unconventional and sometimes horrific upbringing. That’s why it seems a bit out of place when, in the last few chapters, the book skips ahead nearly twenty years to when Mary is a young woman and her father is dying. It’s clear why Karr wanted to include this chapter as it is when her mother finally reveals her secret past, but it doesn’t flow very well and seems out of place with the rest of the story. I would have also liked to know more about how her childhood (especially the rape and a subsequent sexual encounter) molded her character since all we get are a few glimpses of adult Mary as a drug user and alcoholic. However, I assume these issues are explored further in Karr’s follow-up memoir, Cherry.
The Liars’ Club is celebrating its tenth anniversary in print. This edition has a forward by Karr talking about the book, which I found to be egotistical and self-serving. Instead of updating us on her life or filling in some other memories of her past, most of the forward concentrates on bragging about how many people’s lives her book has affected. While this may be true, a forward of this nature may have been better written by a third party (maybe her sister?) to avoid appearing as though the author is giving herself a huge pat on the back.
If you enjoy memoirs or childhood stories, I would recommend The Liars’ Club. Few memoirs have gotten as much critical acclaim as Karr’s recollection of her childhood, and it is easy to see why. Scrappy, tough, sad and humorous, The Liars’ Club proves that something good can come of even the worst childhoods.