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An evening with Mary Karr

Anne Stanton - April 12th, 2010
An Evening with Mary Karr/ Author of The Liar’s Club talks about life, drinking, poetry, recovery and God
By Anne Stanton
I have a ritual when trying to find a book of cracking it open and
reading a random paragraph. If I find the writing amazing in at least
one of my openings, I check it out of the library. If the writing
soars on every random page, I buy it.
Which brings me to Mary Karr, whose memoir, The Liar’s Club, took the
genre into the stratosphere with 500,000 books sold. She’s
credited—some might say blamed—for sparking a whole slew of memoirs.
Karr will speak in Traverse City at the Opera House on the evening of
April 18, a guest of the National Writers Series, which was co-founded
by my husband, Doug Stanton, attorney Grant Parsons, and myself.
I met Mary Karr at the Miami Book Festival last November. She is slim,
 pretty and a wise-ass. She arrived late at a hotel where writers were
commingling with attendees of a Donald Trump event. The two groups
were instantly distinguishable. Four-inch heels and acrylic nails met
Dansko clogs and Chapstick. Much awkwardness on the elevator rides.
Anyway, the writers would meet up in a ninth floor lounge, where Karr
wandered in and was immediately surrounded by fans. She was tired from
a brutal touring schedule, but not too tired to talk. She’s hugely
sardonic and used the F-word with great panache as she talked about
some of the most famous writers of our times, many of them close
friends. I asked if she’d come to Traverse City to speak for our new
writers’ series, which raises money for college scholarships, and she
readily agreed.
So back to the random book opening. I will open up her new book, Lit,
right now. Page 37:

“In our household, I’d been assigned Daddy’s sidekick. Starting as a
toddler, I’d take a place standing beside him in his truck, and for
the rest of his days, his lanky arm still reflexively extended itself
at stop signs, as if to stop a smaller me from pitching through the
windshield. But all through my drug-misty high school years, daddy had
floated through the house with an increasingly vacant stare, leaving a
wake of Camel smoke.”

GROWING UP
Karr writes with such fine detail, it’s as if she still occupies the
living space of each discreet moment. Liar’s Club, published in 1995,
was the first of three memoirs. Quite honestly, I was afraid to read
it, thinking it too painful. She grows up in an east Texas oil town;
tiptoeing around her pill and alcohol addicted mother. She was raped
twice as a schoolgirl. In fact, Liar’s Club is so painful in some
places you want to close your eyes (unlike movies, that doesn’t really
work). But it’s also heroic and funny and poetic. The fierceness of
her love for her family warms the book and makes the story tender, not
bitter.
Her next memoir was Cherry, the story of her teen years and her sexual
and intellectual awakening. Her third memoir, Lit, was published last
year. The title has several meanings, she said. Lit, as in literature
that saved her as a child; Lit as in lit up by alcohol; and Lit, as in
lit up by God. The story is of Karr’s descent into alcoholism and her
recovery in nearly 20 yeaars ago, when her son, Dev, was a small boy
(he hasn’t read her memoirs, but he’s heard all the stories). In Lit,
Karr goes God shopping and finds herself an “unlikely” convert to
Catholicism.
Prayer was vital to her recovery, she said, and it’s also come in
handy as a writer. “I prayed when I threw out most of the manuscript
of Lit — both times,” she told Amanda Fortini in a tremendous Paris
Review interview. “The first time, four years ago, I tossed almost 500
pages, leaving just 80 — the early chapters. Then, in August of 2008,
I threw out another 500 pages, and I was left with only about 120. I
was nearing my deadline, and my tit was in a wringer, timewise. A sane
person might’ve bargained with my publisher for more time, but I
didn’t. It was as if God were saying, You’re in this now: do it.
Which, by the way, my publisher said too. Yet the book felt
impossible. I had to surrender the outcome. But surrender is hard for
me. I’m a willful little beast.”

AWE & WONDER
I mentioned to Karr in an interview last week that I had just written
some articles on addiction and recovery. I asked: What had she lost
and gained when she stopped drinking and turned to God?
“I lost a lot of depression. And heartache. I lost this kind of belief
that I had it all figured out. I was pretty convinced that I knew
there wasn’t a God, and these other people were idiots.  I traded it
for a lot of joy and a sense of awe and wonder. I marvel a lot.
There’s a lot of mystery in being a human being.  I don’t think I’ve
got it all figured out.
“… Faith is not a feeling. It’s a set of actions. I suggest people who
want to recover pray on their knees for 30 days. I’ve noticed that
every alcoholic who doesn’t drink, who isn’t really pissed off, has a
spiritual practice, not necessarily religious, but spiritual. …  All
you have to do is pray, and it doesn’t cost a nickel. Look around and
notice the people who are sober, who aren’t gritting their teeth and
clutching the arms of their chairs. They’ve joined a group that’s
decided to humble themselves, not humiliate themselves, in terms of
what they can and cannot control.”

EVENT DETAILS
 “An Evening With Mary Karr” will start at 7 p.m. on April 18 at the
City Opera House, with doors opening at 6 p.m. Karr will be joined
onstage by guest host Bryan Gruley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter
for the Wall Street Journal and best-selling author of Starvation Lake
and the forthcoming The Hanging Tree (inspired by that “weirdly
creepy” tree north of Kalkaska with all the shoes tied on it). Karr
will discuss her critically acclaimed memoirs and take questions from
the audience in a lively and entertaining Q&A.
In addition to an intimate evening with Karr, guests will enjoy
complimentary appetizers and a personal book signing with the author.
The night’s festivities will include a cash bar courtesy of Trattoria
Stella. Guests will be able to purchase copies of Mary’s books for
signing at the event.
Tickets for “An Evening with Mary Karr” can be purchased at the City
Opera House box office, or online at www.cityoperahouse.org and
www.treatickets.com.Tickets are $15 advance/$20 at the door for
adults, and $5 for students.  Ticket holders for the Mary Karr event
will get first dibs on the tickets for the Tom Brokaw event on May 12.

 
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