Talk about a hard act to follow. Mary Karr's "The Liars' Club" (1995) was both one of the decade's most engaging and entertaining memoirs and a phenomenal best seller in the bargain. But you don't survive a harrowing childhood like the one portrayed in that book only to become all timid and fluttery in the face of outrageous success. So here comes "Cherry" (Viking; 276 pages; $24.95), in which Karr picks up roughly where "The Liars' Club" left off and recounts her rocky journey from girlhood into full-fledged adolescence.
The setting is once again Leechfield, Karr's fictionally named but vividly evoked hometown in East Texas, about a 30-minute drive from the Gulf of Mexico: "Distant refinery flames flapped against the apricot sky." Karr's parents, whose Wagnerian domestic travails thundered so consistently throughout "The Liars' Club," have receded to the background of this book as she tries to find her own way in the world. That fadeaway is understandable but still a shame, since Pete and Charlie Karr seem interestingly unique, and teenage anxieties do not.
Karr's coming-of-age chronicle follows a well-beaten path, from worries about fitting in at high school to the belief that most of the classmates there are losers and jerks. Drugs crop up as an antidote to boredom, and Karr re-creates in detail a number of trippy larks that she shared with fellow users. "Guess you kind of had to be there," a friend says after hearing Karr's account of one such adventure. "Cherry" does not quite get you there.