Charlie Marie Karr

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 397

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Charlie Marie Karr is Mary's mother. She married seven times including twice to Pete Karr. Her fourth marriage, to an Italian sea captain named Paulo, was the one that first brought her to Leechfield, Texas, where she later met and married Pete Karr.

Unlike her husband, Charlie Marie is educated and intellectually curious. She spends a lot of her time reading widely in topics such as Russian history and French existentialism. She is also an artist, having studied art in New York's Greenwich Village, and has her own studio in the family home. She also listens to opera.

Charlie Marie's marriage to Pete Karr is happy at first, but they soon fall to fighting. She bitterly regrets leaving New York for the barren landscape of eastern Texas, and she threatens divorce many times. After her mother dies, Charlie Marie starts to drink, which has a bad effect on her already volatile temperament. In Texan parlance, she is considered "nervous," a term that covers a wide range of mental problems. The fights with her husband become more frequent, and eventually she has a mental breakdown. She smashes mirrors and light bulbs in the house, burns the children's clothes and furniture, and threatens them with a knife. As a result, she is taken away and spends a month at a hospital for the mentally ill.

When the family moves to Colorado, Charlie Marie's mental condition does not improve. She drinks to excess and becomes dependent on diet pills. Much of the time she just stays in bed, too depressed to get up. When she and Pete agree to divorce, the children elect to stay with their mother because they think that left alone she would get into serious trouble, whereas Pete could manage on his own. After Pete's departure, Charlie Marie marries Hector, but this marriage is no happier than her former one. When Charlie Marie almost shoots Hector, Mary and Lecia decide they will return to live with their father. However, it is not long before Charlie Marie leaves Hector and returns to live in Texas, eventually remarrying Pete.

At the end of the book, it transpires that the reason for Charlie Marie's chronic mental instability is that Tex and Belinda, her two children from her first marriage, were taken from her by her husband when he walked out on her. She saw these children only once again.

Mary Karr

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Mary Karr is the narrator of the memoir. She is a resourceful girl who has inherited her father's aggressive temperament and her mother's intelligence. She is dark-haired, unlike her blonde sister, and she looks vaguely Native American, like her father. As a young girl she adores her father and is enthralled by his storytelling at the Liars' Club, which she is allowed to attend. As a child, she cannot help but be influenced by her parents' quarrels, and she and Lecia fantasize about escaping and living somewhere else, such as a shack on the beach or the rest room of a convenience store.

Mary's life includes many traumatic incidents. She is raped by an older boy from the neighborhood when she is seven. She tells no one about it, because she is scared of the consequences of speaking out. In Colorado, when she is no more than nine, she is sexually abused by a babysitter. She also has to witness her parents' constant fighting; her mother's mental breakdown, during which her mother threatens her and Lecia with a knife; and her mother's threatening of Hector with a gun, during which incident Mary and Lecia throw themselves across Hector to protect him.

Not surprisingly, given her family background, Mary learns how to take care of herself physically. Feisty by nature, she acquires a reputation for herself as the worst little girl in the neighborhood. This reputation is sealed when she shoots a BB gun at a boy named Ricky Carter, hitting him in the neck. She has learned from her parents how to curse, and when she is challenged by the boy's father she retorts, "Eat me raw, mister.'' Mary frequently gets into fights with the neighborhood kids, and because she is small she never wins any. But she refuses to give in, and prides herself on being able to take a beating.

In spite of all the traumas Mary suffers in her dysfunctional family, she still feels loved by her parents and she loves them in return. She shows her love by caring for her father after he has a stroke and by forgiving her mother for the wrongs she did to Mary.

Pete Karr

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Pete Karr is Mary's father. A World War II veteran, he is a handsome, black-haired man with Native-American blood who works at the oil refinery. In forty-two years he never misses a day at work, even though he is a hard drinker. Pete is known for his storytelling abilities, and he holds his friends in the Liars' Club spellbound with his vivid tales of his childhood, although few of his stories are true. He is also known as a quarrelsome personality who is quick to get into fights, which he always wins. He even gives Mary, whom he affectionately calls Pokey, tips on how to fight, urging her to bite her opponents. His relationship with his children is warm, and he likes to indulge them, but he is also thrifty and does not like to waste money. He keeps scrupulous financial records and does not trust banks.

When Grandma Moore comes to live with the family, Pete stays out of the house as much as possible, and he is also absent for long periods during a strike at his workplace. A union man, he would hang around the union hall, waiting for news. During these periods, Mary would see little of her father.
Although his love for Charlie Marie is genuine, they quarrel frequently. After their divorce, Pete returns to live in Texas and makes little effort to stay in touch with his daughters. But he is delighted to see them when they return, and he is also eager for Charlie Marie to rejoin the family.

Pete has a stroke in 1980, seven years after his retirement at age sixty-three. After the stroke he cannot speak coherently and he is cared for by Charlie Marie and Mary.

Other Characters

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Ben Bederman
Ben Bederman is one of the members of the Liars' Club. He always listens carefully to Pete Karr's stories and is usually the first to ask a question. He visits Pete in the hospital after Pete has a stroke and is distressed at Pete's condition. Almost every night he sits for hours outside Pete's hospital room.

Cooter
Cooter is one of the members of the Liars' Club. He often picks on Shug and scolds him because he is bothered by the fact that Shug is black.

Daddy
See Pete Karr.

Hector
Hector is a Mexican bartender who marries Mary's mother while they are living in Colorado. Mary and Lecia do not like him and refuse to accept him as their stepfather. Hector does not have a job and the couple lives off Charlie Marie's money. However, the marriage is not a success. Hector is frequently drunk. Charlie Marie criticizes him mercilessly and at one point she threatens him with a gun while he cowers in a chair and tells her to go ahead and shoot since his life is not worth anything. When Hector accompanies Charlie Marie to Texas to pick up some of her clothes, Pete overhears a derogatory remark that Hector makes to Charlie Marie. He drags Hector from his car, punches him to the ground, and then repeatedly hits him in the face. Then he kicks him, breaking one of Hector's ribs. Charlie Marie takes Hector to an emergency room and leaves him there. She then returns to live in Texas.

Lecia Karr
Lecia Karr is two years older than her sister Mary. Lecia is tough and frequently gets into fights, most of which she wins. She is able to beat boys several years older than she. She and Mary have a quarrelsome relationship, and on one occasion Lecia beats Mary in a fight. As the older of the two, Lecia often bosses Mary around, and she takes the lead in deciding what to do. It is she, for example, who decides that they will stay with their mother in Colorado rather than go back to Texas with their father. Lecia' s role in the family is to be the competent one while Mary is the cute one. Often, even at the age of ten or eleven, Lecia is more competent than her own mother. For example, she knows that when her mother has a crying fit after listening to opera music, it is time to put her to bed.

Lecia is also resourceful. Within two days of being viciously attacked by a man-of-war at the beach, she is charging the neighborhood kids money to see or touch her blisters. Mary's reaction at the moment the man-of-war wrapped its tentacles around Lecia's leg says a lot about the sisters' stormy relationship: having many times wished for Lecia to die, she at that moment prayed that Lecia would live.

Grandma Moore
Grandma Moore is Mary's grandmother on her mother's side. She is a bossy, critical woman who disapproves of Mary's marriage to Pete. When Grandma Moore gets cancer, she comes to live with the Karr family, and Pete makes himself scarce. Grandma immediately tries to impose her will on the way they all live. She has firm ideas about the proper way to do things. She tries to get Mary and Lecia to read the Bible every day, for example, and she never expresses a tender word to Mary. Instead, she is a disciplinarian and urges Charlie Marie to spank her daughter, even making a leather whip for the purpose. Grandma Moore is also eccentric; she carries a hacksaw around with her in a black doctor' s bag.

When the cancer worsens, Grandma Moore's leg is amputated above the knee, and she wears an artificial leg. The cancer eventually spreads to her brain, making her even more cantankerous. Mary is not sorry when she dies. Grandma Moore leaves Charlie Marie a considerable amount of money in her will.

Mother
See Charlie Marie Karr.

Shug
Shug is one of the members of the Liars' Club. He is the only black man that Mary ever sees in the American Legion, but he goes there only when the Liars' Club meets. He is openly skeptical when Pete Karr's stories get too incredible. He and Cooter are sometimes antagonistic towards one another.

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