Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Liar's Club

Steven King said he was blown away by Mary Karr's use of the colloquial in The Liar's Club, and I have to say that I am too. "I shit you not," is not even the best of it. I keep thinking I can predict what she's going to say next, and how she's going to say it, and I'm always wrong. It's a pleasure to be surprised.


Otepoti said...

Betty, do you (or does anyone else) worry absurdly about the objective truth of autobiography? I know it's stupid, but I keep wondering how these events, especially the childhood ones, map onto reality.

I know that I've managed to redact events from my own childhood so convincingly that, even though I know from others, that how I remember it isn't the way it was, I'm still convinced by my own version. Chances are overwhelming, with any autobiography, that much of it is a Just-So Story.

If this were published as fiction, would it not be, in a sense, more true?

(Perhaps this obsession with objectivity is a Protestant distinctive? Perhaps it's all Francis Schaeffer's fault!)

Otepoti said...

Perhaps "some of it is a Just-So" rather than "much", sorry.

BettyDuffy said...

I was thinking about this very thing last night as Karr recounted her childhood rape at the age of seven. I was trying to think about my mentality at the age of seven. Would I have known enough to know what had happened to me? Would I really not have told anyone? Would those details be so clear thirty years later? And I haven't read far enough to know if she repressed the memory for any amount of time--but it seems like something worthy of repression that might have resurfaced in therapy. In any case, I think, as she recounts it, it must be a bit fictional. It HAS to be, even if it really did happen.

Although, now that I give it more thought...most of my memories of childhood are hazy, EXCEPT those that have anything to do with sexuality. Those are clear as a bell.

I guess all this is to say that I don't worry about things being fictionalized. It's her job to be artful in the telling of her life story, and if it weren't doctored by the writer's art, I probably wouldn't want to read it.

I get a little annoyed when there's scandal about some memoir containing fiction--like that James Frey thing with "A Million Little Pieces." Even blatant untruths don't bother me. He told a story (Though I really didn't like that book for other reasons.).

Emily J. said...

I had the similar thoughts the other night while reading Liars Club. Is her memory of what happened so long ago simply phenomenal or is she good enough at artfully retelling so as to convince even the readers she knew in person that her memory is as good as true? For instance, I certainly don't remember very much about the trip our family took to Colorado when I was close to Karr's age at the time she went. But then again, I haven't really tried to recapture those memories. I know a lot of my memories have been colored by the retelling of relatives and by combinations of other memories thrown in. And I know for a fact that Betty Duffy makes up stuff all the time based on the way she has described some of our childhood. (wink, wink)

Or maybe it is that so many of Karr's childhood memories were scarring that she remembers them so well.

Some of my most vivid memories are ones like when I was scarred just by being flashed by a boy in first grade, which I remember pretty clearly. So even though I also wondered about the garage scene when she was raped at age 7 - it seems tucked in, an interruption in the flow of the narrative because nothing builds up to it - I'm not surprised she remembers it so well. She makes it seem sort of inconsequential. Or maybe I just haven't gotten to that part that describes the fallout, or maybe it pales in relation to the fallout from the relationship with her mother or maybe her whole life is the fallout.

It sounds like Karr's sister and mother gave her the go ahead before she published the book. I love the part where she describes their later fight: Lecia says "You were always so f'ing cute" and Karr shoots back "You were always so f'ing competent." A typical curse of older sisters. (Recently finished Beezus and Ramona. Now reading Little House on the Prairie. Not so fun to be the big sister in any of those stories.)

Interesting that you mentioned Francis Schaefer, Otepoti. I keep meaning to read more about and by the Schaefer family, another fascinating one, it seems.

Enbrethiliel said...


I didn't raise my eyebrows until she described herself as "dragging ass" when her grandmother expected her to do some chores. The use of "ass" as a suffix is something I associate with own vulgar generation.

On the other hand . . . I remember my cousins laughing their, uh, asses off at the use of "dumb-ass" in a movie set in the 1970s--which we watched in the 1990s. So "ass" the suffix was likely old first before it became new again, and I just have the short memory of someone who subscribes to generational theory.

Enbrethiliel said...


@Emily -- I remembered your comment last night, when I was rereading the first chapter, particularly the part where Karr explains how the original Liars' Club got its name.

It's all about the power of storytelling and the way other people's memories can become more real to us than our own, if they are good enough at telling those stories--even if those stories are not "technically" true. I think what she's saying is that what is important is the effect these stories ultimately have, which is definitely real.