The Kiss


Sometimes I find memoirs more captivating than fiction. It’s not just a matter of truth is stranger than fiction, it also has a lot to do with voice. It’s my favorite part of writing — and reading! — to get a new perspective from a unique voice. Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss stood out to me on the Goodwill shelves because it was 1) a first hand account of a consensual incestuous relationship that didn’t involve Mackenzie Phillips and 2) a paperback book selling for $5.99?! Isn’t that a little steep, Goodwill?

I bought it. I read it. And even now that it’s over, I’m fascinated at the writer’s ability to find her voice and not be afraid of the consequences.

In One Sentence: Young woman develops a sexual relationship with her once absent father.

Favorite Line: “‘You know,’ [my mother] says, pointing, ‘this isn’t about you. It’s about me.’… She means the love my father possesses, the trembling hands and hot eyes. All of what  she has notices and is frightened by. So inappropriate, so immoderate. So abnormal to love me so completely: that’s what I hear her say. What I hear is that not only does my mother not love or admire me, but she will find a way to reinterpret my father’s love to make it all her own.” – p. 98

Review: Harrison takes on the task of telling us all about the skeletons in her closet and she succeeds not only in delivering a masterful writing style, but also feeling totally authentic. Overall, a strong, compelling voice. It jumps around slightly through time but keeps a consistent emotional arc that works wells to drive the reader forward. And, it’s a quick read. Besides the strangeness of the subject matter, the way prose is broken into short vignettes somehow makes it hard to put down. There is one hiccup about the story that would be more of a critical note in fiction, but in memoir really has no way to change. You get the feeling that Harrison had some agency to change the situation sooner than she actually did. Then again, since so much of writing memoir is about the power of hindsight, I got the feeling she realized that as well once she got the words to paper.

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: Harrison’s parents had never divorced. Seriously.

Artwork that Stole the Title:

Or maybe Harrison stole the title. Matches the theme of the story, depending on how or if you interpret art.


The Kiss by Gustav Klimt




Filed under Non-Fiction

5 responses to “The Kiss

  1. Second review I’ve seen of this book on WordPress this morning! I think I’m going to have to read it now. And your review does make it sound quite compelling. I wonder if you had the feeling that the other reviewer did, that it was odd that the ending of the book was so focused on reconciliation with the mother?

    • Thanks for the comment! I didn’t think the ending was odd at all, since the writer focused from the beginning on how her relationship with her mother may have spurned her to respond to her father’s initial advances. Plus, endings are so difficult in memoir. It’s difficult to wrap up an experience and show growth that through writing about it brings healing.

  2. Hi gorskil, so fascinating that you reviewed this book this week, too! What you say about the “hiccup” is intriguing: do you mean that she could have ended their relationship sooner? But isn’t the whole point that she was addicted by that first kiss, as if it were heroin or meth or even a poison that makes her motionless, paralyzed? Really great book to discuss because it’s not very straightforward.

    • Hey Luanne. Very funny that we both reviewed this book! I had actually finished it awhile ago, but found it nearly impossible to write about! Sort of had a hypnotizing effect on me and I wasn’t sure how to react. As far as the “hiccup”, I felt like the first kiss was paralyzing but she still seemed to see some awareness in her ability to nip it in the bud. Like when she shares the experience with her boyfriend at the time, but ends up brushing it under the rug. Or even the time of her life when she seemed to resist his advances and seemed repulsed. I don’t know. It’s a complex situation, and I think seeing those opportunities to have ended it sooner is more a matter of hindsight.

      • Yes, hindsight because it was too much emotion to sort out at the time, I think! Very funny we reviewed it at the same time!!!

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