Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss.

I was fortunate enough to catch "The Art of the Memoir," a panel of memoirists moderated by Leonard Lopate, at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan on February 15th. Of the four panelists, David Carr (The Night of the Gun), Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss), Phillip Lopate (The Art of the Personal Essay), and David Henry Sterry (Master of Ceremonies), I was most taken by Kathryn Harrison's comments on memoir writing. (The event would have greatly benefitted from fewer panelists and a tighter moderator's reign. Carr and Harrison would have been enough to carry the event.) It took me a while, but this week, I finally sat down to read The Kiss.

And this is the thing with Harrison's book. It's called The Kiss. And it's about an incestuous relationship she had with her father. This huge ick factor kept me from running at the book with enthusiasm. And yet, now that I have read it, I am haunted by the dream-like way in which Harrison tells the story. She moves through time and emotion, through the difficult and heartbreaking relations with her parents, through her horror of separating from familial damage, on the sheer power of her writing skills. Not everyone has the stomach to read a memoir about incest. I can't recommend you make the attempt to read The Kiss strongly enough. After reading this book, I have faith that any story, no matter how emotionally complicated, can be told with the requisite skill.

Harrison's three other books are Poison, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water. I've added them all to my reading list.



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