Acclaimed poet and bestselling memoirist Karr (English Literature/Syracuse Univ.; Sinners Welcome: Poems, 2006, etc.) deftly covers a vast stretch of her life—age 17 to her present 50.
The author picks up where her 2000 memoir Cherry left off—escaping her toxic childhood in small-town Texas for the California coast. Quickly bored, and realizing it was a mistake to turn her back on higher education, Karr secured loans and sought the book-lined security of the college campus. Most of the scenes that unfold from here, unlike those from her eccentric childhood, are more familiar: the college student desperate to manifest her intellect; the poor country girl trying to prove to her rich WASP dinner hosts that she’s worthy of their son; a sleep-deprived new mom with a pot roast to cook; the AA newcomer who thinks she doesn’t really have a problem; the sinful skeptic arriving at faith. The difference, though, is the way in which Karr renders these stories. She still writes with a singular combination of poetic grace and Texan verve, which allows her to present the experiences as fresh, but she also brings a potent, self-condemning honesty and a palpable sense of responsibility and regret to the narrative. These elements were necessarily absent from her previous memoirs, in which there were plenty of adults to blame; she is writing from a significantly different place now. Her confessional of outrunning her past only to encounter the same monsters, before being saved by prayer and love for her son, is richer for it. Karr also provides fascinating anecdotes from her experiences as a writer, especially her time at Harvard and the emotional publication of her universally praised debut memoir, The Liars’ Club (1995).
Will ring as true in American-lit classrooms as in church support groups—an absolute gem that secures Karr’s place as one of the best memoirists of her generation.