The Liars' Club

by Mary Karr

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Critical Overview

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The Liars' Club remained almost sixty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Critical praise for the work has been unanimous, and critics have searched for the most glowing adjectives to describe it. Louis Ermelino, for example, in People Weekly, calls it ‘‘an astonishing memoir'' and praises Karr's use of "the rich cadence of the region and poetic images.'' In the Nation, Molly Ivins makes a similar point, commending Karr for her "bilingualism,'' by which she means Karr's ability to switch freely from literate, educated prose to down-home Texan expressions. Ivins also praises Karr's observations about class, and she concludes her review in laudatory terms:

This is a book that will stay gentle on your mind, stirring up memories of childhood and family. To have a poet's precision of language and a poet's gift for understanding emotion and a poet's insight into people applied to one of the roughest, toughest, ugliest places in America is an astounding event.

A Publishers Weekly critic notes that Karr "views her parents with affection and an unusual understanding of their weaknesses.’’ In Time, John Skow observes that there is probably a touch of exaggeration in some of Karr's more outlandish stories, such as when she finds the artificial leg of her dead grandmother while rummaging around in the attic, but Skow feels this exaggeration does not detract from the effectiveness of the book or its power to amuse: ‘‘The choice in the book is between howling misery and howling laughter, and the reader veers toward laughter.''

Karen Schoemer in Newsweek notes Karr's ‘‘captivating, anecdotal style,’’ which "meanders" like a good story told by a member of the book's Liars' Club. The effect of Karr's style, says Schoemer, is that when she gets around to relating the story's most horrifying incidents, "you're so completely in her corner that you feel just as trapped as she is. She's figured out a way to make every reader live through what no child should ever have to endure.''

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Essays and Criticism