Three Feet Tall, Flat Broke, Unemployed, and Illiterate: Mary Karr in the Paris Review
The most recent issue of The Paris Review (No. 191) features an interview with the woman some blame for the memoirist maelstrom in contemporary publishing. It’s true that Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Cherry became runaway bestsellers but Karr, who I also consider a phenomenal poet, has developed a musculature of language that is anything but self-indulgent. She describes the terrors of childhood in a way that ring bells even for those who weren’t subjected to similar abuse and neglect. “A kid has no control,” Karr tells TPR, “You’re three feet tall, flat broke, unemployed and illiterate. Terror snaps you awake. You pay keen attention.”
Some of us may have been a little too preoccupied by Sesame Street to pay as close attention as Karr did, but if your emotional and physical survival is at stake you’re likely to become hyperaware.
Amanda Fortini, who conducted the interview, writes in her introduction that it took years from when Karr agreed to be interviewed to actually get her to talk. It seemed surprising at first that someone who has revealed so much of herself on the page might be reticent about answering questions about “The Art of Memoir” but I’d wager that the very thing that draws me to Karr’s writing–being so hard on herself–might be the same thing that makes her leery of talking “craft.”
I also want to note that this is “The Art of Memoir No1″ the very first in a Paris Review tradition of Art of Fiction and of Poetry interviews. If Karr really is No1 in this rhizomatic genre we can only hope that the Paris Review’s Editor-To-Be, Lorin Stein, will continue interviewing memoirists who are just as tough-minded (and ideally with similarly filthy mouths).
Also of note:
Benjamin Percy’s essay Me Vs. Animals. I’m writing this from Bolinas, CA, also known as Pollan-land, and there are signs up on cedar fences along the road: “Manage, Don’t Exterminate the Axis Deer.” What this means is that the town has started giving birth control to the deer, who overpopulate and then starve or cause traffic accidents, rather than allowing ranchers nearby to hunt them. Reading Percy’s essay, I was thrilled to see another side of what I consider to be an overly-mamby-pamby (Bambi?) genre of wilderness writing transformed into a hilarious piece about the terrors of the natural world that to me is far more respectful of nature than dosing deer with hormones.
Massimo Vitali’s stunning panoramic photographs of beach-culture (see the photo attached to this post, form the cover of The Paris Review). The photographs capture the texture of beachgoers as a crowd of pointilist heads and vivid bathing suits. As such you almost hear his photos rather than see them: a timpani of musical notes against a softly whooshing wall of sound.
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