I’m in awe of Mary Karr’s detailed remembrances poured forth in this memoir that’s largely hailed as bringing back a revival of the form (although I’m not sure it ever went out of style). And her retelling of her mother’s experience seeing Einstein lecture at Bell Labs was fabulous. He needed some simple law of mechanics explained to him and replied, “I never bother to remember anything I can look up.” Her mother loved the idea of a genius who couldn’t do basic things but who could order the entire universe inside his head. “He bowed his head between questions like he was praying, then raised it up to give answers like those mechanical swamis wearing turbans that guessed your future for a quarter at Coney Island. At the crowded reception after the lecture, she claimed that nobody even tried to talk to him. He sat in a straight chair in the corner by himself looking like somebody’s daffy uncle.”
She grew up in Texas in a fraught family with older sister Lecia, adoring her daddy and frightened as her mother began to drink more and more. There’s a stint in Colorado when her mother starts spending her inheritance on horses and a cabin, divorces Karr, takes up with another drunk, buys a bar, almost shoots her next husband which sends her young daughters flying back to Texas accidentally by way of Mexico City where they were chaperoned by a drunk from her mom’s bar. Her mom comes back to their father after he punches out her current husband. It’s a rich, beautiful tale that was hard to put down. The best bits are the stories told by the liars’ club that her daddy leads, each man telling whoppers and drinking sips of Jack Daniels.