The relationships between the members of Mary’s family are complex and rarely all good or bad, even moment to moment. Karr begins her story by saying that her parents “met, and for reasons I still don’t get, quickly married” (10). Her parents’ marriage is troubled from the start, but they also care for each other, and Karr shows them repeatedly trying to work things out before they finally divorce. Karr describes a particularly explosive fight that happens one year on her birthday. Her father smashes Mary’s birthday dinner of lasagna on the patio but then apologizes and takes the family out for dinner. It seems like they’ve patched things up, but at the end of the night Mary’s mother tries to drive off the side of a bridge on the way home, and her father ends up punching her “to get control of [the steering wheel]” (137–139). Still, at the end of the book when Mary’s Daddy can no longer take care of himself, her mother takes over his care.
At the beginning of the book, Karr claims to be her Daddy’s favorite. When Karr talks about the “Liar’s Club”—a group of men who her father meets with to swap tall tales over beers and cigarettes—she expresses pride in the fact that she “was the only child allowed” in a space usually free of wives and children (14). But she also acknowledges that her father fails to protect her when she is raped at the age of seven. When she returns home after the incident she says that, if he’d known, her father would have “gutted this boy like a fish,” but he fails to notice anything is wrong (67). Near the end of the book Karr says, “Daddy and I grew abstract to each other. We knew each other in theory and loved in theory. But if placed in proximity . . . any room we sat in would eventually fall into soul-sucking quiet” (284).
Mary’s relationship with her mother is also strained and lacks the intimacy that Karr shares with her father. The difference in these relationships is clear in the way Karr refers to her parents as “Mother” and “Daddy.” Karr describes some tender moments with her mother, like a memory of her teaching Mary to apply eye makeup and telling her she has “the prettiest eyelashes in the universe,” but the memory quickly turns sour as the mother continues to drink and becomes distant and depressed (130–132). These small moments of motherly love are overshadowed by frightening moments, like the time she burns most of the family’s possessions, then comes and stands over her daughters in their bedroom with a knife in her hand (149–157).
Mary and her mother:
Bad memory: At the end of chapter seven, Mary comes home and finds the letter that said Mother had inherited the mineral rights to Gramma's lands, and was now rich. She runs through the house trying to find Mother, and finally finds her in the studio, her face smeared with her least favorite lipstick. Shortly thereafter, Mother builds a fire in the back yard and steadily puts all their stuff--furniture and toys--in it. They hide in their bedroom and in the end, Mother comes in with a knife, then puts it down, calls the family doctor, and says, "Forest, It's Charlie Marie. Get over here. I just killed them both. Both of them. I've stabbed them both to death."
Good memory: In Chapter 6, her mother takes her birthday shopping in Beaumont for a dress, and they finally find the one she wants--a black crepe dress. She also bought Lecia a chemistry set from the toy department. Unfortunately, she has spent money they don't have to spend, since Daddy's union is on strike, and a fight erupts that night over it.
Mary and her father:
Bad memory: The summer Daddy has his stroke, in Chapter 14, Mother calls Mary over to help her plug in a vaporizer by his bed because he won't let her do it. When she goes in, he bellows at her to get the fuck out, then looses a torrent of invective on her like he'd never done before.
Good memory: In Chapter 6, as a session of the Liars' Club, Daddy tells a story about how his daddy died. Mary knows it's a tall tale, but she enjoys the fact that she and her Daddy share this secret.
Mother and Father:
Bad memory: At the end of Chapter 6, on Mary's birthday, Daddy comes home and discovers how much money Mother has spent that day. In a rage, he throws the homemade lasagna out the back door while he and Mother have (yet another) fight.
Good memory: In Chapter 3, Daddy and his Liars' Club friends build a separate structure for Mother and her art studio and a bedroom for them after Gramma moves in with them.