Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lit by Mary Karr

Lit: A Memoir (P.S.) Lit is a book I've been saving to savor. One that I've had on my TBR (To Be Read) shelf for a few months and always had an awareness of. I thought of it as a "fall back book". I do that with books that I think will be a good fit for me. Not wanting to gobble them all at once, I hoard them on an antique legal bookcase awaiting the day that I need a book I have already decided is something I'll enjoy. It is three wonderful shelves of books that I have already "picked" from the thousands and thousands available. They are my chosen.
I read lots of books about addiction and many of them are among my favorite all time books:

Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, Drinking: A Love Story

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction

and Dry by Augusten Burroughs, Dry. are just a few that I found both exceptionally moving and well written.

Lit comes with great credentials: The New York Times Book Review named it one of TEN best books and numerous other major newspapers gave it the distinction of "Best Book of the Year". It was a National Book Critics Circle Finalist.

I am not a professional reviewer, nor critic: I am a lover of Books. I worship the perfect sentence as it stops me dead in my tracks with amazement. I read with gusto and do not understand people who cannot tell you what book they are reading RIGHT NOW. (I suppose I was just issuing a disclaimer on anything I was about to write that wasn't seen as totally positive about a book that gets the big "thumbs up" from many people who actually do this for a living.)

Mary Karr is a good writer. As noted above, I am often amazed at the way she can coax a sentence into saying far more than the words themselves. Of that there is no question.

So, then I am left with why I struggled so much with her highly recommended and well written memoir and I keep coming back to the beginning. Before the book truly even begins there is a prologue called, "Open Letter to My Son". And although the first sentence grabs me, "And way I tell this is a lie...", I never find a way to figure out or make peace with why the letter had to be there in the first place. I'm guessing amends have been made and conversations levied about everything broached in that letter and I kept thinking that it was not only unnecessary but a public display of something that seems better private. IMHO. Again, not professional.

What I liked about the book, and why I kept reading even though I kept telling Bibliophile I wasn't sure I would finish it, was the way she wrote about family and the way she came to peace with both their brokenness and her own. After the death of her Father from Alcoholism and the recovery of her Mother, she writes about the Family Tradition of Alcoholism and how she takes up it's mantle:

And that's how - in some cosmic accounting of our family's dipsomania - Mother's recovery dovetailed with the start of my own years' long binge, for from that day forward, I drank in increasing amounts, as if our gene pool owed the universe at least one worthless drunk at a time.

Ms. Karr's descriptions of her dive into her gene pool rivals that of many of her memoir writing peers with extra cringing added to the parts of the story that involve her young son's witness of this reverse, two and a half pike with a twist. I feel it bears repeating that I like her writing and I felt that it strengthened as the book continued with the exception of the account of her marriage with Warren and how it ended. The book feels mainly about other relationships in her life: with her son, her sister, her parents, and the countless friends who held her hand during the walk to recovery. The marriage felt strangely absent from the pages but still concluded with strong enough writing that I accepted what had previously seem sparse.

The marriage had become nights on end of cordial agony. In the two years since I've gotten sober, Warren and I have alternately clung to or given room to each other till - over a tense series of months - we can no longer hold on...I don't want to rehash the times we wooed each other again and the times we withdrew, or the million fights we had. The truth is, as noted, we're inclined to gloss over our failures.

After Mary Karr quits drinking and begins her search for what will keep her not just abstaining from drink, but sober, it feels like she almost apologizes for taking up the 12 step mantra that you must have a higher power whom you pray to. I found no need to explain or even faintly apologize for the way she sought and found God in her life and indeed that was the most powerful part of the book for me. Mary is talking to one of her mentor's who asks her "What is God's dream for you?" She describes this as rather a turning point when she can see beyond those commanding, restrictive words of "God's Will" or "God's plan" for you. I agree.

It is in those moments of Mary's coming to believe that a higher power could restore her sanity that I began to find the book that I had been keeping on a shelf to savor.

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