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.
It seems that Lit is going over like a bit of a lead balloon, at least in part because some people don't have access to it. Betty and Enbrethiliel are reading The Liars' Club instead (well, Betty did read Lit, too). Does anyone want to join them? I have reserved it at the library; strangely, Lit was easier for me to get. If not, we can chalk it up to the doldrums of August and wait until September.
In contemplating Mary Karr's conversion experience, I recall how one of the things that led me back to the Catholic Church was my relationship with a man who had "gotten right-sized" in Alcoholics Anonymous. He was, like me, a cradle-but-lapsed Catholic, returning to his faith when he entered sobriety. The reason for his return was that he realized that his being able to stay sober -- one day at a time -- was wholly beyond his power, and that it could only be God who was keeping him from picking up a drink. Until he had surrendered his craving for a drink to God, he told me, he would sit in AA meetings, shaking and with sweat streaming from every pore because he wanted a drink so badly. But he had nearly drunk himself to death while on a business trip, and had woken up in the ICU; he had checked himself into detox during his Christmas-New Year's break from work because he knew he had to stop drinking or he would die.
A month or so ago, when I wrote a long blog post about the conversion of the actress Ève Lavallière, someone wrote a comment casting doubt on the sincerity of her faith, seeing as it had come to her in the midst of personal suffering and turmoil. All I can say is, this is undoubtedly the door to faith for most of us. Some of us are lucky enough to have received the gift of faith in childhood, and never to have strayed from it, but they are outnumbered both on earth and in heaven by the eleventh-hour converts. And there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, etc.
I remember my old boyfriend C. telling me about how a friend of his in AA said once that drinking was just something you did while you were driving around looking for drugs. C.'s own sponsor in AA was killed in the World Trade Center. I have a particular affection for the gallows humor Mary Karr relates from "the rooms," i.e. the rooms where AA meetings are held. I've been to a few AA meetings in my life and more Al-Anon meetings than I can possibly count.
Thanks, Pentimento, for steering us to Mary Karr. I found the poetry collection and all three memoir volumes at the library.
I expected to have to reserve, and wait and wait, but no. That saddens me, because books as good as these shouldn't be on the shelf, to the left of Kerouac, to the right of Ginsberg and under Atwood and Capote. They should be zinging around with the velocity of a squash ball, getting thumbmarks and food stains.
I've started with Lit, because I didn't know any better, not having registered Mary Karr before. (I live a sheltered life.)
There's a heap of gorgeous stuff here - Dev's take on the necessity of the crucifixion - "It's like Pulp Fiction - what else would get our attention?" alone is worth gold. There's also Janice's remark on the value of kneeling in prayer - "It makes you the right size" (or words near that; I'm writing in a hurry here, because the possums have gone to the playground with their older brother, and I have a scant half-hour before the blitz starts again.) But what got my laugh, for obvious reasons, was the privileged preschool child and his kiwifruit and brie sandwich, "I first had this sandwich in Vienna."
Kiwifruit are school lunchbox material here, folks. Mothers stuff them down their children as fast as they can, because they're so much cheaper than oranges and have twice the vitamin C. (And are sovereign against constipation, too, in case your children have not gorged enough to find out.)
We tried the Brie and Kiwi combo at lunch. "Baby-foody" was the verdict. So we urge you all to stand proud in your great tradition of peanut-butter-and-jelly, the sammy Dev was getting instead of B & K. Gourmet food is just peasant food with a plane ticket.
Anyway, wasn't peanut butter invented (or at least promoted) by Booker T Washington? (No. George Washington Carver, apparently. Close but no cigar.) That's another reason it's a great food.
I first became interested in Mary Karr when my Jewish-atheist sister-in-law gave me her book of poems Sinners Welcome for Christmas a couple of years ago. The essay linked to below, "Facing Altars," is included in the book. This is the title poem:
I opened up my shirt to show this man
the flaming heart he lit in me, and I was scooped up
like a lamb and carried to the dim warm.
I who should have been kneeling
was knelt to by one whose face
should be emblazoned on every coin and diadem:
no bare-chested boy, but Ulysses,
with arms thick from the hard-hauled ropes.
He'd sailed past the clay gods
and the singing girls who might have made of him
a swine. That the world could arrive at me
with him in it, after so much longing—
impossible. He enters me and joy
sprouts from us as from a split seed.
It strikes me that Lit probably contains more swear words then any other book we've read here. I hope that doesn't offend anyone (unfortunately, it's pretty much the way I talk to myself in my own head, though I do try to restrain myself in polite company).
Here is an essay by Mary Karr that appeared in Poetry magazine in 2005 and was reprinted in her volume of poems Sinners Welcome in 2006. It's a nutshell of her conversion (she describes herself upfront as a cafeteria Catholic, which is not unexpected), but goes on to write very cogently and movingly about the sacramental in poetry.
I picked up my reserved copy of Lit at the library the other day and started it on the way to New York, where I had a family event to attend this weekend. One issue it brings up for me right away is the balance between the literary portrayal of what is sad, shocking, and disturbing, and the redemption that we assume will follow (we assume it because we know that Mary Karr eventually became a Catholic). How much sordidness is enough? How much is too much? I often ask myself this about my own anonymous confessional writing, and I think that the only reason to talk about these things is to demonstrate how, in the end, the lotus has bloomed out of the proverbial mud; "Where sin did abound, there grace did abound ever more."