The Liars' Club

Mary Karr

08 October 2015
336 pages


My father comes into focus for me on a Liars' Club afternoon. He sits at a wobbly card table weighed down by a bottle. Even now the scene seems so real to me that I can't but write it in the present tense.

Mary Karr grew up in a swampy East Texas refinery town in a volatile and defiantly loving family. In this funny, devastating, haunting memoir and with a raw and often painful honesty, she looks back at life with a painter mother, seven times married, whose outlaw spirit could tip over into psychosis, and a hard-drinking, fist-swinging father who liked nothing better than to spin tales with his cronies at the Liars' Club.

When it was published in 1995, The Liars' Club raised the art of memoir to a new level and brought about a dramatic revival of the form. It is a classic that paints a harsh world redeemed by Karr's warmth, intelligent humour and finely spun prose; The Liars' Club is both heart-stopping and heart-felt.

Harrowing but funny . . . A father prone to brawls; a heavy-drinking mother who teetered on the verge of self-destruction; a grandmother who carried a hacksaw in her handbag. But through it all shines humour, warmth and genuine love.
Her grandmother carried a hacksaw in her handbag, her mother hit the bottle, her home was once voted one of the ten ugliest towns on the planet and to cap it all, she was raped . . . What makes this such extraordinary reading is that, far from being a catalogue of horrors, The Liars' Club is often very funny.
The Liars' Club is written by a master of poetically slangy prose, a language so alive it makes the telling of acutely painful experiences seem like child's play. You relax into a light adventure or innocent beauty, wholly unprepared for the sudden jolts of harrowing violence experienced by the tiny "Little Mary". You cry at her dark loneliness, you rejoice at her humour and defiance. When you finish the last chapter, you quite simply celebrate her survival.