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VIA: Jesse Kornbluth, Huffington Post

For a writer of memoirs, Mary Karr has had a charmed life. That is, a lot has happened, almost all of it colorful, much of it painful. And, in each of her three books, she’s followed the advice of mentor Tobias Wolff (“Take no care for your dignity”) and produced not just a bestseller, but a memoir that expands our idea of what a memoir is.

If you missed The Liar’s Club or Cherry, Karr’s just-published Lit: A Memoir thoughtfully provides a cheat sheet. Raised in Port Arthur, Texas by a father who worked — literally — in oil and a flighty, unstable mother who, one especially dark night, was intent on killing her daughters with a knife, Karr bailed on her family when she was 17. In California, she did menial work and learned to drink. But she knew that writing was her destiny, and she honed a style of poetry that stripped language clean in order to deliver taut, blunt stories.

She got noticed — especially by a tall, Harvard-educated poet. They married and had a son, and, right there, when it looked as if she had everything, she started downing a bottle of Jack Daniels a day. It wasn’t as if she didn’t recognize the trouble she was in. Alcohol flowed through her family history — her father, she’s written, could start a fight sitting alone on the front porch. But she was desperately afraid her husband would divorce her and win custody of their son.

“Lit” is about many things: the resolution of her relationship with her mother and father, her struggle for recognition as a writer, her inability to unfreeze her marriage. But mostly it’s about alcohol and faith — about an intellectually arrogant woman who’s too proud to surrender and too smart to believe. In the last half of her book, she does both.

The image of Mary Karr at AA meetings and on her knees in prayer is a stunner. The release from alcohol, hard as it was, is the lesser miracle for her. The greater surprise? Her embrace of Catholicism.