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Lit :: Mary Karr, Memoirist


I just finished writing a manuscript.

I’m not sure where to place it, though. Part of me says fiction. It feels like fiction. At least I can easily convince myself it’s fiction.

Then I walked into the Aventura Borders and picked up the first book that made me feel like I’d miss out on something small if I didn’t at least read the first paragraph.

Maybe it was the circular maroon sticker that read:

BUY 1, GET 1



And, in smaller print on the bottom,

Less expensive item

is discounted

Or maybe it was the italicized title:



I kind of remember reading LIT and

picking up the book,

scratching the matte exoskeleton,

sniffing the binding.




printed on the black-tipped bottom of the spine,

underneath a red-pit olive.

The reverse side has a black-and-white

thumbnail of a woman with hoop earrings —

the writer.

She’s looking through a thin curtain.

It’s daytime.

I can see her ear.

I look at her ear.

Her earlobe is attached to the skin on the outside of her jawbone.

Mine, on the other hand, dangles.

I want to believe she’s sitting on a wingback chair, a family heirloom,

but part of me knows that she’s in some meaningless studio where

everything is planned.

There’s no element of surprise in her face.

She’s looking through the thin curtain, toward the light, and whatever she sees,

she expects to see.

Maybe her kid is getting off the school bus. It’s that time of day again. Clockwork.

That’s what I want to believe.

But she’s probably looking at something that isn’t even there.

The photographer said,

“Look omniscient, Mary.”

I realize that her kid isn’t there. Neither is the school bus.

She’s looking at a projection of herself

on the other side of the thin curtain.


I read the last sentence of her pedigree:


I think: two memoirs?

I scratch at the matte exoskeleton again and see that LIT

is yet another memoir.

I think: three memoirs? How many memoirs can a person write?

I guess as many as they want.

You can make a memoir about your childhood and go forward from there.

Or you can make a memoir about your old age and go backward from there.

Or you can make a memoir about your middle age and forget about your childhood and your old age.

Or you can make a memoir about a single day.

Should I call my manuscript a memoir?

Should I make people believe that what they’re reading is a written account from my memory?


memoir sounds more educational than fiction. Memoir sounds self-important. Like it’s not your story that matters, but your memory.

It’s not your imagination that makes you musical, but the things you remember.

I think I write memoirs. I can write as many as I want.

August 12, 2010 9:32 am

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