Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison (memoir)

The KissThe Kiss by Kathryn Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publication Date: June 1, 1998

I have always been drawn to memoirs in which the subject matter is taboo, shockingly bazaar and unacceptable to even the most liberal minded of today's society. Anything that can stimulate my morbid curiosities, in a non-fiction format, fascinates me. So when I heard of The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison, after reading the review of another GRs member, the appeal was instant and I immediately went to my library, signed it out, and devoured it in (close to) one sitting. It had that additional element of tragedy, centered around incest, but also weaved into this story were topics of emotional abuse, codependency, depression, eating disorders and family relationships- both dysfunctional and loving, all packaged into 200 pages of beautifully written, poetic prose. I was not disappointed.

This is a true story in which the author, Kathryn Harrison, reunites with her father when she is twenty years old and their relationship crosses a line into a physical affair that evolves into an obsession, all consuming and even, at times, life threatening. As much as this story is about the forbidden relationship between father and daughter, it's just as much about the relationship between Kathryn Harrison and her mother and how the latter, quite possibly, set the stage for the former, if one were to really analyze cause and effect.

Growing up, Harrison lived primarily with her grandparents, the upper-middle-class parents of her mother, although, her mother played a very significant, albeit unreliable, role in her life and upbringing. Her father was banished when Harrison was just a baby, deemed unworthy as a provider on the meager salary of a preacher, seldom spoken of and cut out of all family photographs. To a young girl, craving attention, parental love and approval, he became almost like a mythical creature - sought after yet unreachable, enhancing the appeal and romanticizing the existence of without the disappointments and faults of reality.

When Harrison is 20, an adult and finally able to initiate, or at the least consent to, a relationship with the stranger who is her father she is, at first, infactuated by his undivided attention and interest in her after years of longing for nothing else. If only that were the extent of it. But the relationship quickly escalates from platonic to out of control and her father will no relent until he posses, and controls, all of her and allows no room for her to love, or be loved by, anyone else.

I was both surprised and impressed by how honest this story was and I have a lot of admiration for Kathryn Harrison to lay out her most intimate and shameful moments for everyone to see. This is a very personal account of her story and her vulnerability and bravery is endearing and impressive. The powerful strength of the subject matter of this book is equally matched by the talented writing that truly did the story the justice it deserves. I thought the ending was perfectly executed, extremely satisfying, and in perfect pace with the rest of the book.

This isn't a book for the faint of heart and for readers who have a personal history with sexual abuse, incest or otherwise, it might be upsetting and disturbing, or it could be inspirational and empowering depending on the individual and their comfort level with subjects addressed. It could possibly be a trigger for those who struggle with eating disorders as they are briefly mentioned, multiple times, during this memoir. For anyone else I absolutely recommend it. I'm giving it between 4-4.5 out of 5 stars and the only reason this isn't a full 5 star rating is because I did find some parts to be a bit vague and I would have appreciated a little more detail but given the personal, sensitive nature of this book I do respect that the author shares or omits whatever she chooses and aside from that I have no complaints and I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this book.

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