Some childhoods are so pitiable you have to either laugh or cry. Karr's (The Devil's Tour, not reviewed) memoir succeeds in taking the reader to both extremes. Leechfield, Tex., circa 1962, was the kind of place where kids chased behind the DDT spray truck to see who could vomit first. So it was in this home sweet homestead that the author, when she was seven, and her older sister went about the daily task of keeping their family together despite their mother's tendency for alcohol and suicidal car outings, and their father's spendthrift obsessions. Along the way there were moments of genuine fear, adolescent gross-outs, and secrets about what love can drive one to do. Kart understands the inherent power in the fine line between comedy and tragedy, and she handles such juxtapositions like a knife thrower with something to prove. A wickedly funny account of smart-alecky goofing off can suddenly bolt into a horrific remembrance of sexual abuse. She is equally skilled at recounting the tall tales that her father cooked up to amuse his friends, the group of drinking buddies from which the book takes its title. In Daddy's voice, several classically Texan yarns are spun. Karr borrows his technique, his deadpan delivery, to give her book its edge, with punchy transitions like: ""Maybe if Mother hadn't taken it in her head to shoot Hector, we'd never have got back to Texas."" The author hints early on at a desire to underpin her story with the unfolding atrocity of Vietnam, but the tactic is ultimately dropped. This family's battle creates all the destruction one can handle, and the fact that mustard gas finds its way into the body of a relative is truly creepy enough. With a sure hand, and the stamina that comes from growing up unlucky, Kart digs deep into her youth and hits black gold.