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The Kissby Kathryn Harrison
Synopses & Reviews
We meet at airports. We meet in cities where we've never been before. We meet where no one will recognize us.
A "man of God" is how someone described my father to me. I don't remember who. Not my mother. I'm young enough that I take the words to mean he has magical properties and that he is good, better than other people.
With his hand under my chin, my father draws my face toward his own. He touches his lips to mine. I stiffen.
I am frightened by the kiss. I know it wrong, and its wrongness is what lets me know, too, that it is a secret.
"Few memoirs receive the amount of prepublication hype that surrounds this slim and powerful autobiography by a writer whose lurid, psychologically vivid novels (Exposure, etc.) have portrayed sexual abuse, cruel power games and extreme, self-destructive behavior. Harrison here turns an unflinching eye on the episode in her life that has most influenced those books: a secret, sexual affair with her father that began when she was 20. Not surprisingly, the book is unremittingly novelistic: it unfolds in an impressionistic series of flashbacks and is told in the present tense in prose that is brutally spare and so emotionally numb as to suggest that recounting the affair is for Harrison is the psychological equivalent of reliving it. Abandoned by her father as a child, neglected by an emotionally remote and impetuous mother, Harrison is raised by her grandparents. She retreats at a young age into a complex interior life marked by religious fixations, bouts of anorexia and self-injury, rage at her callous mother and obsession with her absent father. A minister and amateur cameraman, her father visits Harrison after an absence of 10 years, when she is home from college on spring break. The boundary between flirtation and paternal affection is soon blurred, as her father lavishly dotes on her and, in parting, kisses her sexually on the mouth. A relationship of passionate promises, obsessive long-distance phone calls and letters then flourishes, as her father, presented here as ghoulishly predatory, relentlessly draws her into his web. Gradually consenting to his demands for sex, Harrison drops out of college and moves in with her father's new family, extricating herself from the affair only when her mother is stricken with metastatic breast cancer. Throughout the book, Harrison omits names, dates and locations, shrewdly fashioning these dark events into a kind of Old Testament nightmare in which incest is just one of a host of physical trials, from pneumonia to shingles, self-cutting and bulimia. If Harrison sacrifices objectivity in places for a mode of storytelling engineered for maximum shock value, most readers still will find this book remarkable for both the startling events it portrays and the unbridled force of the writing." Publishers Weekly
"I am in awe — no other word will do — of the courage it took to write this book, and the art." Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy's Life
"Appalling but beautifully written...jumping back and forth in time yet drawing you irresistibly toward the heart of a great evil." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"Every sentence strikes and burns and scars, like lightening in the heart's darkest tempest." Bob Shacochis, author of Swimming in the Volcano
"The bravery in Harrison's raw, clear voice will stay with me a long time. I couldn't stop reading this. I'll never stop remembering it." Mary Karr, author of The Liar's Club
"Every now and then a book comes along that disturbs, disrupts, and polarizes the public in new ways." Los Angeles Times
"[F]or all the ink spilled, all the heat this book has generated before ever seeing the inside of a bookstore, there's not much here to raise anyone's temperature. Those who pick up The Kiss looking for sweaty-palmed titillation be warned: You'll find more sizzle at a backyard barbecue....The Kiss is not long on flash or useful revelation. Maybe Harrison needed to write it, to exorcise those family demons (though she's done this at least once before, and in more detail, in her novel Thicker Than Water). Maybe. But when her demons go, they go quietly, and it's up to publishing's PR machine — and readers hypersensitized to a hot topic — to supply the pyrotechnics the book itself lacks." Jennifer Howard, Salon.com
"[P]owerful writing, not about desire or passion, but about abandonment and rage." Kirkus Review
In this extraordinary memoir, one of the best young writers in America today transforms into a work of art the darkest passage imaginable in a young woman's life: an obsessive love affair between father and daughter that began when Kathryn Harrison, twenty years old, was reunited with the father whose absence had haunted her youth. Exquisitely and hypnotically written, like a bold and terrifying dream, The Kiss is breathtaking in its honesty and in the power and beauty of its creation. A story both of taboo and of family complicity in breaking taboo, The Kiss is also about love — about the most primal of love triangles, the one that ensnares a child between mother and father.
About the Author
Kathryn Harrison is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Her first novel, Thicker Than Water, was a New York Times Notable Book of 1991. Her second novel, Exposure, was also a New York Times Notable Book, and a national bestseller. She lives in New York City with her husband, the writer Colin Harrison.
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