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VIPER RUM
2001
 
synopsis | reviews | praise | purchase
 
Synopsis:
Viper Rum is Mary Karr's first book since The Liars' Club, which helped to spark a renaissance in memoir. That breathtaking autobiography about her Texas childhood rode The New York Times bestseller list for more than sixty weeks. It was hailed by The Washington Post as "the essential American story, a beauty." Critic James Atlas likened her to Faulkner. No book by a New Directions author since Nabokov's Lolita has created such a stir. Molly Ivins remarked in The Nation, "[The Liars' Club] is so good I thought about sending it out for a second opinion.... To have a poet's precision of language and a poet's insight into people applied to one of the roughest, toughest, ugliest places in America is an astonishing gift." Now that gift returns to its origins in poetry. Viper Rum delves into the autobiographical subject matter of her two early collections (The Devil's Tour, New Directions, 1994, and Abacus, Wesleyan, 1987). Various beloveds are birthed and buried in these touching lyrics, some of which--as the title suggests--deal with drink: "I cast back to those last years/ I drank, alone nights at the kitchen sink,/ bathrobed, my head hatching snakes,/ while my baby slept in his upstairs cage/ and my marriage choked to death...." Precise and surprising, her poems "take on the bedevilments of fate and grief with a diabolical edge of their own" (Poetry). The prize-winning essay "Against Decoration,"which first set off a controversy in Parnassus, serves as an Afterword. In it, Karr attacks the popular trend toward ornament in contemporary poetry: "the highbrow doily-making that passes for art today."
 
Reviews:
Review from Chicago Tribune
 
Praise:
“Like Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney, Karr intends poetry of the plain style and the truth of the unmistakably situated self, but is taught also by desire.”
— Allen Grossman

“You could say that Karr is a poet who refuses to flinch, even if the landscape of memory and experience resembles a particularly gruesome Bosch canvas, and who, for the most part, refuses to be consoled.”
— The Chicago Review

“One cannot help but cheer.”
— Harvard Review

“Karr stares hard in the face of hard fact… These poems rip up the Hallmark card and replace it with the difficult, demanding claims of love in an imperfect world… ‘Against Decoration,’ her courageous and provocative essay, is important… No poet writing today should proceed without at least noting Karr’s legitimate misgivings and taking them into account.”
— Georgia Review

“Searing, not sentimental.”
— Sam Hodges, Dallas Morning News
 
Purchase:
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