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.
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 a parent whose absence had haunted her youth. 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.
Praise for The Kiss
“I couldn’t stop reading this. I’ll never stop remembering it.”—Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club
“Only a writer of extraordinary gifts could bring so much light to bear on so dark a matter, redeeming it with the steadiness of her gaze and the uncanny, heartbreaking exactitude of her language.”—Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy’s Life
“Beautifully written . . . jumping back and forth in time yet drawing you irresistibly toward the heart of a great evil.”—The New York Times
“Like all good literature, The Kiss illuminates something that we knew already, while also teaching us things we had not even suspected.”—Los Angeles Times
“A darkly beautiful book, fearless and frightening, ironic and compassionate.”—Mary Gordon, author of Circling My Mother
“Harrison’s story is her own, but it is also a brilliant fiction, densely mythic, sometimes almost liturgical sounding and raw. She is both author and protagonist of a dark pilgrim’s progress.”—The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
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.
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Best book I have ever read
This book made me distraught. It made me passionate. It made me so filled with emotion that all I could do is cry. I wept for the author, her life, her relationships, and abuse. We are not so different, and I have been able to look at myself in such an introspective way in which has never been accomplished by me before or since. Beautiful work, literally a masterpiece.