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This review is taken from PN Review 117, Volume 24 Number 1, September - October 1997.

RAG AND BONE SHOP MARY KARR, The Devil's Tour (New Directions)
MARY KARR, Abacus (Wesleyan University Press)

My brother was at college with Mary Karr. She describes getting into that college as a lucky bluff, one which hid both her own jangling uncertainties and a chaotic family history (described in her black comic memoir The Liar's Club) dramatically different from the white-bread upbringing of the usual middle-class co-ed. Yet my brother remembers Karr as preternaturally poised and cool, intimidating in her intellectual and personal authority. You've got your story and I've got mine: both versions of Karr at college are doubtless 'true'. It's not just that everyone constructs masks, some of which we are not even aware of. The problem these days is everyone in America, writers especially, thinks they're marginal. Universal marginality, a seeming contradiction in terms, is the last bastion of individualism in a society whose mass culture is omnivorous. In 'Average Torture', Karr writes, 'But less and less/you unlatch paradise./You learn to sleep through days, standing/like a beast...' The fragmentation of civil society and the common culture, the collapse of traditional hierarchies, the uncertainty of epistemology, have produced a void filled, when it's filled at all, by the projection of the self amongst a multitude doing likewise. Staking a position at odds, self-fashioning is the order of the day and the memoir, as a kind of internalized or privatized dandyism, is its expression.

Like a black hole, untramelled self-assertion annihilates: Only Disconnect! Mary Karr writes:

You exile those who question, and your eyes,
which sometime wheel this ...


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