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From Mary Karr comes this gorgeously written, incessantly hilarious story of her tumultuous teens and sexual coming-of-age. Picking up where the bestselling The Liars’ Club left off, Karr dashes down the trail of her teen years with customary sass, only to run up against the paralyzing self-doubt of a girl in bloom. Fleeing the thrills and terrors of adolescence, she clashes against authority in all its forms and hooks up with an unforgettable band of heads and bona-fide geniuses. Parts of Cherry will leave you gasping with laughter. Karr assembles a self from the smokiest beginnings, delivering a long-awaited sequel that is both “bawdy and wise” (San Francisco Chronicle).
As a girl idling her way through long, toxically boring summer afternoons in Leechfield, Texas, Mary Karr dreamed up an abnormal career for herself, “to write one-half poetry and one-half autobiography.” She has since done both, and even when she’s recounting a dirty joke, she can’t help but employ a poet’s precise and musical vision. Her first memoir, The Liar’s Club, was as searing a chronicle of family life as can be imagined–tough, funny, and crackling with sorrow and wit. Against all odds, its sequel doesn’t disappoint. Cherry finds the teenage Mary still marooned in a family whose behavior ranges from charmingly eccentric to dangerously crazy. (This, for instance, is the Karr version of a note from home: “Lecia Karr’s leprosy kicked in, and I had to wrap her limbs in balm and hyssop. Please excuse her.”) But here the point of interest has shifted to Mary herself, furiously engaged in pissing off authority at every turn: flouting the dress code, dropping acid, running from the cops, falling in love.
First love, you may say, heart sinking in chest: what more can possibly be said about one of these subject? In reality, a great deal. To read Cherry is to realize how rare it is to find a teenage girl portrayed on her own terms. As a chronicle of female adolescence with all its longings, fantasies, cruelties, and fears, Karr’s memoir goes darker and deeper than any book in which the protagonist doesn’t end up dead. She turns a savage eye on her own hypocrisies and failings, and we like her all of the more for them. We even end up fond of Leechfield, easily the toughest, smelliest, nastiest little burg ever to appear between the covers of a book–“a town too ugly not to love,” her father called it in The Liar’s Club. Growing up in one of these place is necessarily about getting the hell out, but it is usually about inventing a new identity with which to make your escape. That’s the blessing Karr’s wise friend Meredith bestows after a particularly harrowing (and harrowingly funny) acid shuttle: “I see big adventures for Mary. Big adventures, long roads, great oceans: same self.” Cherry is the story of how Karr begins to acquire that self, alternatively fumblingly–a big adventure for Mary, as it is for all of us, and one we never finish so long as we live. Perhaps that’s the book’s greatest pleasure of all: it hints there’s more to come. –Mary Park
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