Reading Lit by Mary Karr, with a hangover. Not cool.

Occasionally, I drink too much. In the old days, that meant consuming three beers in four seconds flat using a beer bong, or playing quarters (CHAMPION NOSE HERE)!, or drinking jungle juice mixed in a garbage can.

But now I’m older and wiser and my Voice of Maturity says, “IF YOU HAVE A FOURTH GLASS OF WINE, YOU WILL FIND YOURSELF MAKING OUT WITH THAT TOTALLY HOT WAITER RIGHT BEFORE YOU PUKE IN THE PARKING LOT.” So I (almost) always stop at three.

Even so, three glasses of wine is enough to upset my delicate constitution, and after a night out, I frequently find myself up in the middle of the night with a headache and stomachache and general malaise (sometimes called a hangover), and I have to read for an hour or two before I can get back to sleep.

This has been a very surreal occurrence of late because I’m deep into the book Lit by Mary Karr, which is a memoir about her life as an alcoholic and subsequent journey toward sobriety.

It’s Karr’s third memoir. How a person can write three entire books about herself eludes me, especially since all three books are brilliant and gut-wrenching and hilarious in an OH MY GOD sort of way. Her first two memoirs, The Liars’ Club and Cherry, exposed a tumultuous childhood filled with love, neglect and abuse; Lit focuses more on her life as an adult, and how her disease shaped her as both a mother and a writer.

Particularly difficult to read are the passages involving her son, who often found himself as a very young boy watching her get drunk. Certainly it made me think: can my children discern a tipsy me from a sober me? Does my mood change the morning after I’ve been throwing back a couple? Frankly, I sort of don’t want to know. But I suspect so, on both counts.

Karr’s journey leads her to a mental hospital at one point, where her son visits her and is no doubt impressed for life by the crazies he encounters. Eventually, she finds her way into a 12-step program, and is able to reclaim her life. She also delves heavily into the whole “higher power” thing, so if you’re a devout atheist, steel yourself for that. But really, when you’ve taken to drinking whiskey before driving your son to preschool, you believe in whatever is going to pull you out of the abyss.

Karr additionally has published four books of poetry, too, and even her prose contains such spectacular lyricism and lilt that it begs to be read again and again. It’s a funny, dear kind of book that can do that – leave you torn between wanting to find out what happens next yet drawn toward rereading the last passage to appreciate its brilliance.

She also forces you to rethink drinking, particularly in front of children. The Diva, now 9, has asked me several times why I drink wine, and telling her that it’s “just for grown-ups” is getting old. I suppose I could say, “Well, being a mother to you and your brother and sister STRESSES ME OUT so severely that I require mind-altering substances to make it through the evenings.” That doesn’t seem right.

I mean, I don’t think I’m going to stop drinking any time soon. But it’s nice to have something new to worry about.

3 responses to Reading Lit by Mary Karr, with a hangover. Not cool.

  1. Kimmimz says:

    Now I am going to have to read ALL her books! Rethinking how one drinks in front of the kids might be a good idea, but I rather like all my drinking habits. *Hicc*

  2. Kathleen says:

    I’ll drink to that! (Sorry. But somebody had to say it (And anyway, I MEAN it!!)

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