Book Review: The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison

The KissTitle: The Kiss
Author: Kathryn Harrison
Published: 1997
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 207
From: Drake Public Library

While I was reading Kathryn Harrison’s disturbing memoir, The Kiss, I was also reading several other books.

Those books were a lifesaver. They broke up the dark themes woven throughout the memoir I picked up at a local library booksale and kept me reading from a safe place.

Harrison tells the story of her youth. She was basically raised by her grandparents because her mother didn’t want her and her father was absent. Eventually, however, as she got older, she was introduced to her father in a more realistic way.

That was when her father started holding on to her. He managed to sway her in all these ways, and soon they began having an emotional and physical love affair.

I said this memoir is full of twisted themes. Harrison looks at her relationships, all of them, in a very sexual way without making it seem sexual. Her relationship with her grandmother, grandfather, mother and father are held under a microscope so she can explain how those people impacted her life. She tells so many little stories with other people that all add up to the complexity of who she is.

Harrison, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, is the perfect storyteller. Throughout this entire memoir, I never got the feeling Harrison didn’t know what she was saying. Something I occasionally notice is how writers who try to be writers push things too far, making things too easy to read and don’t leave out the things that don’t need to be said. The most important thing I ever learned from my creative writing classes at Iowa was to show, never tell. Harrison does just that.

In this way, I never did find a single thing I didn’t like about what Harrison had to say, or how she wrote it. I usually try to find something that isn’t as strong as other aspects, but occasionally, which I love, I can’t. When I can’t find that one weak aspect of a piece of writing, I know I hit gold.

Harrison’s memoir was gold to me. Despite the heavy themes of incest, unromantic love, obsession, possession, oppression and feeling unwanted, it was beautifully written and something I know I will find myself rereading in the future.

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