Book Review: The Liars’ Club

theliarsclubMary Karr’s The Liars’ Club set a new standard for memoirs when it came out in 1995. In it, Karr tells the story of her well-educated, artistic, alcoholic mother and the uneducated, hard-drinking, doing-the-best-he-can dad her mother married as they struggled with life in east Texas and Colorado.

It isn’t a story of a financial struggle; Karr’s father had a steady job and her mother at one point inherits so much money that buying fur coats for both daughter and herself and then living it up for lunch at a fancy restaurant in a big hotel seems almost commonplace.

It is the story of the complex relationships we humans get entangled in as we look to someone else to make our dreams possible instead of taking responsibility ourselves or adjusting expectations into the realistic range.

The Liars’ Club sets a high bar for wannabe memoir writers. There is a meltdown moment for conflict and drama when her mother’s Nervousness (always capitalized to acknowledge it as a euphemism for a severe mental breakdown) destroys much of their possessions and removes her from the lives of her daughters for many months. But most of the tale is of a slightly unorthodox upbringing of a feisty child and her more traditional older sister. Karr’s father includes the younger in the rituals of his drinking and fishing buddies who make up the liars’ club, exposing her to language and behavior some would consider inappropriate even were she many years older. That Karr addresses everything in her life openly, not hiding behind secrets imposed from outside, provides the charm of the story.

The sisters, the author Mary and Lecia (pronounced Leesa), end up fending for themselves from time to time, proving that children understand more than adults around them assume and make adult decisions when the adults around them behave like children.

I loved Karr’s story. If you enjoy family stories, especially stories involving secrets adults have chosen to hide from their children, you’ll love it, too.

Genre: Biographies and Memoirs
Length: 354 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics; 20th Deluxe ed. edition (November 10, 2015)
Publishing Date: 2015

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Book Review: The Glass Castle

Five StarstheglasscastleIn The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls tells of her unorthodox upbringing by her artist mother and inventor father, during which she and her siblings—older sister Lori, younger brother Brian, and younger sister Maureen—survived frequent moves across the country, inconsistent access to school, and long periods of poverty so severe the children had nothing to eat and survived by foraging. Her parents believed children needed to learn to fend for themselves instead of being watched over and protected. In spite of the resulting challenges, the children were identified as gifted in most schools.

Throughout her childhood, Jeannette believed in her father, even when she knew he was lying to her and was willing to take the little money the family had for food in order to buy liquor. She recognized his brilliance at the same time as overlooking his destructive behavior, at least until she and her older sister Lori were able to devise a plan to escape and live on their own. Yet even after all four children had escaped their parents’ influence, Jeannette kept in contact with her parents, accepting that their lives were consistent with their principals even though Jeannette, Lori, and Brian at least, rejected their parents’ free-thinking foundation.

The Glass Castle is a tale of the resilience of children under extreme circumstances, an optimistic story of life moving forward. It is story of love, love by parents of their children and by children of their parents. It is a story of survival against bullying, the effects of poverty and hunger. It could have been a depressing story, but Jeannette’s warmth and humor come through, turning it into a story of redemption and optimism.

Genre: Biographies and Memoirs
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Scribner
Publishing Date: 2005

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Five StarsathousandsplendidsunsDuring years of occupation by the Soviet Union and inter-tribal warfare in Afghanistan, two Afghan women of different generations and regions and very different socioeconomic situations find marriage to the same older man the immediate solution to stay alive when each loses her parents. But marriage brings its own problems, including brutal beatings by the husband for minor or even just perceived infractions of his rules. When their plan to leave him is discovered, both fear for their lives and realize they must take even more extreme action for the sake of their children.

Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns explores what it means to be a family. By placing the action in the context of thirty years of changing governments, political systems, and international sponsors, the novel also explores what it takes to develop a stable nation where rival tribal leaders undertake serial switches in allegiances in order to gain power.

Hosseini tells the story well, engendering sympathy for both Mariam, the love-child of a wealthy businessman in Heart and his made, as well as for Laila, the youngest child of an educated man in Kabul and his wife. It was well-paced for the most part, though the final section moved more slowly than I expected.

Genre: Literary fiction
Print Length: 379 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (November 25, 2008)
Publication Date: November 25, 2008
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Book Review: The Accidental Truth

theaccidentaltruthFive StarsLauri Taylor’s story of discovering her mother’s secrets and the secrets surrounding her death is masterfully told. Taylor unveils the distress of her mother’s disappearance and then the discovery that her body has been found in Mexico, bringing the reader with her for the suspenseful ride. The death is ruled suspicious, then a murder. Each step in this journey affects Taylor, her husband, their children, her sisters, and especially her nephew and mother’s business partner. The story serves as a gripping reminder that families come in many sizes and shapes and that the connections are important, even when they have been tested to the point of near breaking. It is more than just a tale of what happened to her mother. It is a story of what she learned and how she has put those lessons into practice to help others heal from devastating life choices.

Lauri will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.