"Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air, a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. But it could blow everybody's head off." (p. 59)or this one . . .
"Writers had heretofore been mythical to me as griffins - winged, otherworldly creatures you had to conjure from the hard-to-find pages they left behind. That was partly why I'd not tried too hard to become one: it was like deciding to be a cowgirl or a maenad." (p. 49)
or my favorite . . .
". . . I was seventeen thin and maleable as coat hanger wire, and Mother was the silky shadow stitched to my feet that I nonetheless believed I could outrun." (p. 33)
But, Karr has to be this poetic. Never mind that, yes, she is a published poet. Karr's life is so full of potholes that she has to use language to smooth over the trauma: oft-psychotic mother, alcoholic father, repeated sexual abuse, poverty, as well as her own tangos with alcoholism, mental breakdowns, and divorce. What is lovely about Karr, in Lit no more-so than in The Liar's Club and Cherry, is that she balances her hardships not only with gorgeous words, but with hard-ass words too. Upon entering her future husband's family estate for the first time she notes her effort to repress a ghetto "Damn!" She can hurl expletives with the surliest drunkard in the bar (pun intended).
While I haven't reached this part of the book yet, I feel I must amend my earlier explication of the title. Karr departs mid-way through the book on an unlikely spiritual quest. The self-avowed atheist reluctantly begins twelve-stepping, but stumbles mightily over all of the God-talk. At her young son, Dev's, simultaneous request to attend church, Karr samples religions like a blue plate smorgasbord. I believe that the third meaning of the title could refer to the spiritual light that flipped on during Karr's sojourn. It could be the light of epiphany, the gift of sobriety. Or it could just mean books, who knows.
The first quarter of the book begins where Cherry left off in late adolescence and we accompany Karr through her college, grad school ("poetry camp") and black-out drunken episodes. She finds a father-figure mentor, Walt, a psychology professor at her Minnesota liberal arts school who helps her find work and therapy and a poetry mentor, Eldridge Knight, who helps her writing improve from cliched and unintelligible to published. Summarizing the content feels cheap. Read the book! Read along with me and share comments. I'll comment next on the middle section, Karr's marriage, motherhood, and crazy alcoholism.
Here's a nice interview Karr did with Terry Gross about writing Lit.