This is a memoir of Karr’s childhood, growing up in the ’60s, mostly in a small town in East Texas, and a little in a town in Colorado. Karr’s parents are alcoholics and it is an understatement to say that they do not take very good care of their children.
The subtitle is “a wickedly funny account of an apocalyptic childhood.” It was recommended by one of my favourite non-fiction writers, Mary Roach. So I suggested it for the Las Vegas Non-Fiction Book Club. I think my expectations were too high because, although it was funny in parts, I don’t find this sort of thing particularly amusing. Actually, I found the story utterly tragic. It has a happy ending because Karr and her sister turn out just fine and both seem to be quite successful. But it all could have gone very badly for them if it wasn’t for their own intelligence, resilience and good luck.
I do not think this family is especially unusual. I know of many families headed by alcoholics, and in this case at least Karr’s parents’ marriage was fairly loving and stable, at least for the majority of the time. Awful things have happened in her mothers’ past and with no mental health support she turned to drinking to deal with her problems. The book consists mostly of anecdotes about when terrible things happen to Karr and her older sister.
I read most of this book in a horrified state, and not at all as amused as the jacket promised I would be. One of the quotes even said “the essential American story,” which I find astonishing. This was a sorry tale of child neglect and abuse and I am glad that I am finished with it. It seems that Mary Karr is now a very successful writer, and I am so glad that she could rise above her tough childhood but I will not be reading any more of her books, I cannot cope with the trauma of it all.