The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison

Appalling but beautifully written…jumping back and forth in time yet drawing you irresistibly toward the heart if a great evil. – Christopher Lehmann Haupt, The New York Times

Memoirs are all the rage these days and I have read a few- but I’ve never read anything like The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison. I’ve read a couple other books by Harrison and I now more fully understand some of the recurring themes in her novels (dysfunctional families, issues of love and the withholding of it, estrangement, emotional blackmail) after finishing The Kiss.

This is a well known book, I think, despite having been published ten years ago. It received copious praise and, despite its difficult subject matter, I can see why. In fandom, we often write incest fic and consider it to be hot- but Harrison’s story of her affair with her father is never titillating. Instead, it’s a breathtaking and gut-clenching examination of how her seemingly unrequited love for her mother manifested itself into an all consuming and ultimately devastating sexual affair with her estranged father.

Harrison’s father left the family (at his in-law’s request) when the author was six months old. Until she was twenty she only saw him twice. Her father, a well-educated preacher, drew her into an affair with a kiss.

The book is frighteningly honest – Harrison doesn’t spare herself or her part in the relationship. She turns a keen, intelligent (but very emotional) eye on her life, the important relationships she had (or desperately wanted to have) and her father- who is one of the vilest characters I have ever met.

I couldn’t put this book down and when I was done I felt such a great sadness for her.

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