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Envy: A Novelby Kathryn Harrison
"Harrison, the author of several novels and memoirs, writes with the deceptive simplicity one might find in a smart thriller. And Envy is a thriller of a kind, albeit one rooted in the psychology of family and informed by Greek tragedy; it is a carefully packed novel that works by slowly, exactingly removing layer upon layer of betrayal and surprise." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
Will has a good sex life — with the woman he married. So why then is he increasingly plagued by violent erotic fantasies that, were they to break out of his imagination and into the real world, have the power to destroy not only his family but his career? He's about to lose his grip when he attends a college reunion and there discovers evidence of a past sexual betrayal, one serious enough that it threatens to overpower the present, even as it offers a key to Will's dangerous obsessions.
Hypnotic, beautifully written, this mesmerizing novel by "an extremely gifted writer" (San Francisco Chronicle) explores the corrosive effect of evil — and how painful psychological truths long buried within a family can corrupt the present and, through courage and understanding, lead to healing and renewal. "Like Scheherezade in the grip of a fever dream, Kathryn Harrison...has written one of those rare books, in language of unparalleled beauty, that affirm the holiness of life," said Shirley Ann Grau, about Poison. And the same can be said about Envy.
"William Moreland, the 47-year-old New York psychoanalyst at the center of Harrison's sixth novel, has a family that's awash in betrayals. Will's father, a retired veterinarian turned photographer, is having an affair with the owner of his gallery. Will's brother, Mitchell, a long-distance swimmer with 'a name as recognizable as that of, say, Lance Armstrong or Tiger Woods,' is estranged from the family. And ever since Will's 12-year-old son died three years ago in a boating accident, his wife, Carole, has been emotionally and sexually distant. All these wounds pucker open when Will attends his college reunion and runs into a statuesque ex-girlfriend who left him 25 years ago when she may or may not have been pregnant with his child. That past betrayal becomes entangled with the others in Will's life and leads to further transgressions and revelations. Given the steamy, soap-operatic nature of this plot, it's remarkable how Harrison renders it emotionally plausible, in sinuous, sensitive and often funny prose, exposing the raunchiness of sex and the 'obscene' nature of mortality. Will's profession as an analyst seems too convenient — allowing Harrison to analyze her own novel through the voice of her main character — but this is a pardonable flaw in a book so juicy and intelligent. Agent, Amanda Urban. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A]n intoxicating work of psychosexual suspense....Harrison writes commandingly...[The] dialogue is electrifying, the sophistication of her psychology is mesmerizing, and her characters, so astutely drawn, are bewitching." Booklist
"Harrison writes like a poet, spinning a tangled tale rich with familiar themes from her previous works....Compulsively readable and deeply disturbing, this work is strongly recommended." Library Journal
"[A] juicy, if overwrought, upper-middle-class nightmare....Harrison has some admirably creepy plot twists up her sleeve — and some extremely nasty sex scenes — though she fails to knit them together convincingly. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"An unsparing examination of the turbulent depths beneath an unsuspecting hero's most unexceptionable-seeming fantasies, and a life patently too normal to be true." Kirkus Reviews
"[T]hat rare literary phenomenon: a psychologically complex work with a plot....The characters, their conflicts and their conversations do seem real, and their story, however improbable, will keep you turning the pages." Newsday
"Though Harrison's bluntness can sometimes seem heavy-handed, by the end of the novel it is apparent that she is a more clever writer than she lets on, and the real tragedy of Envy is that Will so sorely lacks his creator's ample insights into his psyche." San Francisco Chronicle
"As heightened as this hidden plot turns out to be, it is frustratingly formulaic at its deepest level. It's a dream horror that finally feels all too dreamlike, too embeddedly symbolic to have the pang of real life." Emily Nussbaum, The New York Times Book Review
"Will's understated reactions and the gently paced denouement of Envy are not always as believable as the delicious ironic conceit at the center of Harrison's complex and highly crafted novel — the psychoanalyst blindsided by his own demonic shadow." Los Angeles Times
"Envy is a book that offers the reader nothing: no character who is complex, flawed, passionate or dynamic enough for us to have a stake in; no discernible dramatic arc; no sense of humor; no language that achieves force or grace or surprise..." Charles Taylor, The Washington Post
"[C]ompelling....There is a lot of talk in Envy — smart and highly educated, with many references to pop culture and art significant to baby boomers and their tribe. All the talk befits a book that is in many ways multiple-layered, top-level psychological sleuthing, a kind of psychic whodunit." Chicago Sun-Times
"Harrison's reliance on meticulous details with every sexual exploit is both tiresome and ultimately harmful to an otherwise intelligent and insightful novel." Rocky Mountain News
"Most of the novel is exceedingly good, but the anger and confusion that drove her characters is dissipated in a relatively minor incident, classically a wounding, but still it's a cathartic episode that seems of too little moment for what it achieves." Chicago Tribune
William Moreland, a sexually obsessed New York psychoanalyst who is in the throes of a midlife crisis, goes to his college reunion. When he sees a woman he loved twenty-five years earlier, he makes a shocking discovery about their relationship and begins to ask questions about himself, the past, and the people he loves. Plagued by sexual desires, Will begins to have fantasies about his patients, and his madness only deepens when a striking young woman comes to see him. The resolution of family secrets long buried is at the heart of this beautiful and provocative novel.
"Kathryn Harrison is a wonderful writer…Spellbinding."
- The New York Times Book Review
"A juicy story of psychosexual suspence"
- The Wall Street Journal
"Shockingly complex and compulsively readable."
- O, The Oprah Magazine
"[Envy] has to be considered another succcess for one of the most interesting writers of her generation."
- St. Louis Post Dispatch
"Complex and disturbing… Envy is a masterfully constructed, insightful novel of psychosexual suspense that explores the destructive power of loss, betrayal, guilt and envy…an engaging, beautifully written story."
- The Boston Globe
“A compelling, beautifully written, well-constructed look at family problems that initially might seem insurmountable….Harrison is a truly gifted writer.”
- Deseret Morning News
"The characters, their conflicts and their conversations do seem real, and their story, however improbable, will keep you turning the pages."
“Her ability to train an unflinching eye on some of the more frightening aspects of eroticism and the human psyche, combined with her uncommon wisdom, distinguishes her as one of the finest and most fearless storytellers writing today.”
“Envy is full of Harrison’s astute, often mordant powers of physical and psychological observation…the fact is that Kathryn Harrison is one of our more earnestly impassioned and intellectually engaging players. Long may she run.”
Will has a good sex life–with the woman he married. So why then is he increasingly plagued by violent erotic fantasies that, were they to break out of his imagination and into the real world, have the power to destroy not only his family but his career? He’s about to lose his grip when he attends a college reunion and there discovers evidence of a past sexual betrayal, one serious enough that it threatens to overpower the present, even as it offers a key to Will’s dangerous obsessions.
Hypnotic, beautifully written, this mesmerizing novel by “an extremely gifted writer” (San Francisco Chronicle) explores the corrosive effect of evil–and how painful psychological truths long buried within a family can corrupt the present and, through courage and understanding, lead to healing and renewal. “Like Scheherezade in the grip of a fever dream, Kathryn Harrison . . . has written one of those rare books, in language of unparalleled beauty, that affirm the holiness of life,” said Shirley Ann Grau, about Poison. And the same can be said about Envy.
About the Author
Kathryn Harrison is the author of the novels The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water. She has also written the memoirs The Kiss and The Mother Knot; a travel memoir, The Road to Santiago; a biography, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; and a collection of essays, Seeking Rapture. She lives in New York with her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison, and their children.
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