Part 1: Texas, 1961
The Liars' Club begins at a traumatic moment in Mary Karr's life, when she is seven. There has been a disturbance at her home in the town of Leechfield, Texas, as a result of which Mother is being taken from the house, having suffered a nervous breakdown. Mary and her nine-year-old sister Lecia are taken away by the sheriff and stay for a while elsewhere in the neighborhood.
Karr relates how her parents met and married and also tells of her father's childhood, explaining that she learned about these things by listening to the stories Daddy told to his drinking friends at the American Legion. This group of friends was known as the Liars' Club.
Mary's childhood is not easy. Her parents fight frequently, and although her mother threatens divorce, the couple stays together. Mary develops a sharp tongue, frequently using vulgar language she learned from her parents. She gets into fights at school.
Life for Mary becomes even more difficult when her grandmother, who has cancer, comes to live with her family. Grandma Moore is a bossy, critical, eccentric woman who carries a hacksaw around in a black doctor's bag and demands that Mary be spanked for misbehavior. Mary blames Grandma Moore for the worst times in her family, and Mary's own behavior deteriorates. She throws tantrums, bites her nails, walks in her sleep, and is suspended from second grade for attacking other children. To add to her misery, she is raped by an older boy in the neighborhood.
Grandma Moore dies a slow death. Her leg is amputated and...
(The entire section is 647 words.)
Part 2: Colorado, 1963
Having inherited money from Grandma Moore, the family is living in more comfortable circumstances. They move to Colorado Springs, where Mother buys a stone lodge on the side of a mountain. Mary is now eight-years-old. From the bedroom window, she and Lecia enjoy watching bears roaming around, and they learn to ride a horse. They spend an idyllic day fishing for trout with Daddy. Mother spends much of her time at the local bar. Soon Mary's parents announce they are to divorce, and they give the girls a choice as to with whom they wish to live. The girls choose Mother. Daddy returns to Texas the next day. A Mexican man named Hector moves in with Mother, and Mother calls him the girls' new daddy. The girls resist Hector's attempts to bond with them, and they miss their real father whom they unsuccessfully try to lure back.
They visit Antelope, the biggest city Mary has seen, but it is a disappointment to her. Mother rents a colonial house there, and the sisters each have their own bedroom for the first time. They attend a local school, where Mary still gets into fights. Mother's mental health continues to deteriorate. She becomes dependent on diet pills and spends most of her time drunk in bed. Her relationship with Hector sours, and she becomes moody and depressed, seeing no point in life. On one occasion she throws herself out of a moving car. In another traumatic incident, Mary is forced to perform oral sex on the man...
(The entire section is 362 words.)
Part 3: Texas Again, 1980
In 1980 Daddy has a stroke at the age of seventy and is incapacitated. Mother has stopped drinking but has become addicted to prescription drugs. She remains depressed. Mary, having left home permanently at seventeen, lives in Boston. She and her father have grown apart and no longer have much to say to each other. After Daddy's stroke, he loses the ability to speak coherently. Mary returns and helps her mother care for him.
One day, while searching the attic for old medical records, Mary comes upon a number of wedding rings. She asks her mother about them and Mother's anguished story comes out. Her first husband ran off with her two children, Belinda and Tex, and she saw them only once again. Each time she remarried, she expected her new husband to help her get her kids back, but the men quickly lost enthusiasm for the task. It was the strain of losing her children that led to Mother's mental instability over the years.
(The entire section is 167 words.)