Friday, November 9, 2007

Kathryn Harrison/THE KISS

At age twenty, Kathryn Harrison was reunited with her father, who had not been allowed to be part of her childhood. She becomes obsessed with him, with having him back in her life, and he becomes obsessed with her--less paternally. The memoir is less about their affair than it is about Kathryn's failing psyche, her ongoing battles with anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, rejection, neglect.

I found this book stomach-turning. For me, it wasn't the incest--it's obvious that the father is a total unforgivable creep, that he is physically, psychologically, and emotionally abusive, that Kathryn is powerless to resist him because of her various vulnerabilities--that's simply a train wreck that you know is going to happen from the beginning. And I thought from the title and cover there was going to be some ambiguity about the incest, but there isn't; you're left with no doubt about her father's disgustingness. She didn't indulge in any graphic descriptions, at least, not in the kinds I was afraid of having to read (there is one description of a doctor's visit that I unfortunately read while I was eating and which caused me to have to put down both book & chopsticks for awhile). So that wasn't what really got to me.

I think what was most upsetting is the inevitable and endlessly reinforced conclusion that the book isn't about her father at all; it's about her mother, her mother's neglect, rejection, jealousy, and hostility. The book raises a lot of ideas about various ways parents can fail their children. Which is just an upsetting thing to have to think about, even when it's not as dramatic a story as this one.

I gotta be honest--the tense vacillation (past to present and back again) seemed gimmicky and poor to me. Otherwise, the writing is good. This was a really quick read--I finished it while stuck on my morning commute.

This is a good book, but it's uncomfortable and I wouldn't recommend it to everyone. I do think it's worth reading, though, as long as you know what you're getting into.


cyn said...

ugh. i'll stick with flowers in the attic...or something. =X

Leigh Russell said...

Hmmmm .... makes my "creepy" murder stories sound like Andy Pandy after 24... Not sure you've sold this to me!

Church Lady said...

It seems an abusive parent is usually wedded to a passive one. The passive one tends to get the brunt of the blame, while the child continues to seek the approval/attention of the abusive one.

I'm not a psychologist--that's just my take on life. I probably wouldn't read this. I can't. But your review was excellent.

moonrat said...

You're right, CL. I hadn't thought of that, but it's true. Why do you come out of the book feeling like it was her mother who raped her? I imagine it's because she very artfully set it up that way, but still.

Not to say we're unduly harsh on the passive parent; but if we're going to be that harsh on the passive parent, shouldn't we be even harsher on the abusive parent?

Anonymous said...

i read this book and found

it to be very real and

hauntingly beautiful.