The Liars' Club: A Memoir

BOOK: The Liars' Club: A Memoir
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Rave reviews for Mary Karr and
The Liars’ Club

“This book is so good I thought about sending it out for a back-up opinion…it’s like finding Beethoven in Hoboken. To have a poet’s precision of language and a poet’s insight into people applied to one of the roughest, toughest, ugliest places in America is an astonishing event.”

—Molly Ivins,
The Nation

“9mm humor, gothic wit and a stunning clarity of memory within a poet’s vision…. Karr’s unerring scrutiny of her childhood delivers a story confoundingly real.”

The Boston Sunday Globe

“Overflows with sparkling wit and humor…Truth beats powerfully at the heart of this dazzling memoir.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Elegiac and searching…her toughness of spirit, her poetry, her language, her very voice are the agents of rebirth on this difficult, hard-earned journey.”

The New York Times Book Review

“A dazzling, devastating memoir.… She paints an unsparing portrait of her struggle through a fractured childhood. Recounting one apocalyptic event after another, Karr’s voice never falters or rings false.”


“Bold, blunt, and cinematic…nothing short of superb.”

Entertainment Weekly

“Superb… unflinching and hilarious.
The Liars’ Club
has that smack-you-in-the-face freshness that marks books that endure.”

Houston Chronicle

“A brave, brilliant offering to the world”


“An astonishing memoir of a ferociously loving and dysfunctional family…Karr uses the rich cadence of the region and poetic images to shape her wrenching story.”


“From painful matters, Mary Karr has fashioned a book of great warmth and humor, honest to the bone.
The Liars’ Club
is the vivid recollection of a childhood no one would have chosen, but such is the ferocity of Karr’s love for her family, and the gritty eloquence of her voice, that we enter her world with pleasure and leave it with regret.”

—Tobias Wolff, author of
This Boy’s Life

The Liars’ Club
shimmers with great truths, surely hard-won and well worth knowing. Mary Karr has made a fearless, poignant and often hilarious foray into the crazy darkness of an American childhood, and brought back a brilliant memoir of innocence and violence, loss and hope. This is a book of genuine humanity.”

—Bradford Morrow, author of
Trinity Fields

The Liars’ Club
promises to catapult Karr to the exalted level of New American Voice. From the fabric of a troubled and traumatic childhood, she has crafted a tale that resonates with the universal uncertainty of childhood…Her poetic touch illuminates a thousand sentences. Karr has drawn black gold from the [Texan] mud.”

Texas Monthly

“Roll over in the pure luxury of a good book, sucking this story up through the straw of clean-to-the-bone writing. Karr’s is a childhood remembered without sentimentality, written with a songwriter’s ear for cadence, dialogue, place and time. Karr stops your heart in less than five pages…the reader won’t forget this soon.”

The Denver Post

“This is one hell of a story, and [Karr] tells it vividly…there is no question that this uninhibited and unsettlingly tough-talking book is driven by love.”

Chicago Tribune

“A fierce, funny, and splendid memoir.…it is Karr’s uncompromising drive toward honesty, clarity and the exposing of secrets that drives the book.”

The Voice Literary Supplement

“Karr lovingly retells [her parents’] best lies and drunken extravagances with an ear for bar-stool phraseology and a winking eye for image. The revelations continue to the final page, with a misleading carelessness as seductive as any world-class liar’s.”

The New Yorker

“Raucous and gritty and keening and wild, Mary Karr’s memoir of growing up in a Texas oil town is long on suspense and short on sentiment. Here’s a loss of innocence in which the schoolyard rape gets little more than a footnote. Karr faces it down as she does cancer, madness, alcoholism and a vicious dog—with humor and a scrappy genius for survival.”

—Kathryn Harrison, author of

“With language as hotly peppered as East Texas cuisine, Karr dishes up a main course of hard times, with wit on the side…it keeps you coming back for more.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A very funny and strangely hopeful book…the story was so engrossing, so painful, so darkly comic that I couldn’t put it down until my head started nodding onto my shoulder. It became more stunning with every page.”

San Antonio Express News

“Prop your cowboy boots on the porch rail, open a cold longneck and listen to the voice of a born storyteller…captivating, hilarious and heartfelt.”

Los Angeles Times

“Lovely and harrowing…Mary Karr is long on wit and short on sentiment, and her fierce love for these people who are her family hold the reader’s pity at bay.
The Liars’ Club
is surely one of the best books of this, or any, year.”

The Dallas Morning News

“Karr writes in captivating style…like a great Liars’ Club tale, her narrative meanders through tangents that are sometimes more entertaining than the point she’s getting to. She’s figured out a way to make every reader live through what no child should ever have to endure.”


“The nonfiction equivalent of a Raymond Carver short story.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A dark, sassy, disturbing tale…it’s the story of an unconventional, spirited, childhood, and of parents whose love for their children was fierce and enduring, but desperately flawed.”

St. Petersburg Times

“Some childhoods are so pitiable you have to either laugh or cry…Karr’s memoir succeeds in taking the reader to both extremes. With a sure hand, she digs deep into her youth and hits black gold.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A warning should be posted on this book:
May be hard to put down and get out of your mind.

The Columbus Press Dispatch

“This is an excellent book…it will endure and entrance readers for generations.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“One of the very best books to be published this year, and quite possibly the best account of childhood to appear in some time.”

The Milwaukee Journal

“Breathtaking clarity and compassion…[Karr’s] most powerful tool is her language, which she wields with the virtuosity of both a lyric poet and an earthy, down-home Texan. It’s a wonderfully unsentimental vision that redeems the past even as it recaptures it on paper.”

—Michiko Kakutani,
The New York Times



Mary Karr’s three volumes of poetry are
Viper Rum, The Devil’s Tour
, and
She has won Pushcart Prizes for both poetry and essays, and her work appears in such magazines as
The New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Granta, Parnassus, Vogue
, and
American Poetry Review. The Liars’ Club
won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the best first nonfiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and was given the Texas Institute of Letters Prize for best nonfiction. The sequel,
, is also available from Penguin. Her grants include the prestigious Whiting Writer’s Award and the Bunting Fellowship from Radcliffe College. A Guggenheim Fellow in poetry, Karr is currently Jesse Truedell Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University, and lives in New York City.

To request Penguin Readers Guides by mail (while supplies last), please call (800) 778-6425 or e-mail
[email protected]
. To access Penguin Readers Guides online, visit our Web site at






Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
   Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in the United States of America by Viking Penguin,
a division of Penguin Books USA Inc. 1995

Published in Penguin Books 1996

This edition published 2005

20   19

Copyright © Mary Karr, 1995

All rights reserved

A portion of this book first appeared as “Grandma Moore’s Cancer” in

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint excerpts from the following copyrighted works:

Canto LXXVI from
The Cantos of Ezra Pound
, Copyright 1938, 1948 by Ezra Pound.

Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

“The Envoy of Mr. Cogito” from
Mr. Cogito
by Zbigniew Herbert. © 1974 by Zbigniew Herbert.

Translation © 1993 by John and Bogdana Carpenter. First published by The Ecco Press in 1993.

Reprinted by permission.

Photographs from the author’s collection.


The liars’ club: a memoir/Mary Karr.

p.   cm.

ISBN: 978-1-101-65073-8

1. Karr, Mary—Homes and haunts—Texas—Port Arthur.   2. Women poets, American—20th century—Family relationships.   3. Port Arthur (Tex.)—Social life and customs.   4. Karr, Mary—childhood and youth.   5. Family—Texas—Port Arthur.   6. Karr, Mary.   I. Title

PS3561.A6929Z468 1995

818’.5403—dc20      94-41252

Printed in the United States of America

Set in Garamond 3      Designed by Ann Gold

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.


Introduction by Mary Karr

The Liars’ Club


Not long before my mother died, the tile guy redoing her kitchen pried from the wall a tile with an unlikely round hole in it. He sat back on his knees and held the tile up so the sun through aged yellow curtains seemed to pierce the hole like a laser. He winked at my sister Lecia and me before turning to my gray-haired mother, now bent over her copy of Marcus Aurelius and a bowl of sinus-opening chili, and he quipped, “Now Miss Karr, this looks like a bullet hole.”

BOOK: The Liars' Club: A Memoir
12.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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