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About Kathryn Harrison
Author Photo by Joyce Ravid.
Kathryn Harrison was born in 1961 in Los Angeles, California, where she was raised by her mother’s parents. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers Workshop, where, in 1986, she met her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison. They had a first date on Friday, April 25, and on Monday, April 28, they moved in together. The Harrisons married in 1988, and live in Brooklyn with their three children. Kathryn writes novels, memoirs, personal essays, biography, and true crime. She is a frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, and teaches memoir at Hunter College’s MFA program in Creative Writing, in New York City.
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Titles By Kathryn Harrison
In this extraordinary memoir, one of the best young writers in America today transforms into a work of art the darkest passage imaginable in a young woman's life: an obsessive love affair between father and daughter that began when Kathryn Harrison, twenty years old, was reunited with a parent whose absence had haunted her youth. A story both of taboo and of family complicity in breaking taboo, The Kiss is also about love—about the most primal of love triangles, the one that ensnares a child between mother and father.
Praise for The Kiss
“I couldn’t stop reading this. I’ll never stop remembering it.”—Mary Karr, author of The Liars’ Club
“Only a writer of extraordinary gifts could bring so much light to bear on so dark a matter, redeeming it with the steadiness of her gaze and the uncanny, heartbreaking exactitude of her language.”—Tobias Wolff, author of This Boy’s Life
“Beautifully written . . . jumping back and forth in time yet drawing you irresistibly toward the heart of a great evil.”—The New York Times
“Like all good literature, The Kiss illuminates something that we knew already, while also teaching us things we had not even suspected.”—Los Angeles Times
“A darkly beautiful book, fearless and frightening, ironic and compassionate.”—Mary Gordon, author of Circling My Mother
“Harrison’s story is her own, but it is also a brilliant fiction, densely mythic, sometimes almost liturgical sounding and raw. She is both author and protagonist of a dark pilgrim’s progress.”—The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
Born and educated in midwestern cities, Bigelow is sent north by the United States government to establish a weather observatory in Anchorage. But what could have prepared him for the loneliness of a railroad town with more than two thousand men and only a handful of women, or for winter nights twenty hours long? And what can protect him from obsession—obsession with a woman who seems in her silence and mystery to possess the power to destroy his life forever, and obsession with the weather kite he invents, a kite he hopes will fly higher than any has ever flown before and will penetrate the secrets of the heavens?
A novel of passions both dangerous and generative, The Seal Wife explores the nature of desire and its ability to propel an individual beyond himself and convention. As she brilliantly reimagines the terrain of the Alaskan frontier during the period of the First World War, Harrison, a “master of her material” (Mary Gordon), also evokes early efforts to chart the weather and reveals the interior realm of the psyche and emotions—a human landscape that, in its splendor and terror, is profoundly and eerily reminiscent of the frozen frontier and the storms that scour its face.
Every era must retell and reimagine the Maid of Orleans's extraordinary story in its own way, and in Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, the superb novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison gives us a Joan for our time—a shining exemplar of unshakable faith, extraordinary courage, and self-confidence during a brutally rigged ecclesiastical inquisition and in the face of her death by burning. Deftly weaving historical fact, myth, folklore, artistic representations, and centuries of scholarly and critical interpretation into a compelling narrative, she restores Joan of Arc to her rightful position as one of the greatest heroines in all of human history.
Spare and unflinching, The Mother Knot is Kathryn Harrison’s courageous exploration of her painful feelings about her mother, and of her depression and recovery. Writer, wife, mother of three, Kathryn Harrison finds herself, at age forty-one, wrestling with a black, untamable force that seems to have the power to undermine her sanity and her safety, a darkness that is tied to her relationship with her own mother, dead for many years but no less a haunting presence. Shaken by a family emergency that reveals the fragility of her current happiness, Harrison falls prey to despair and anxiety she believed she’d overcome long before. A relapse of anorexia becomes the tangible reminder of a youth spent trying to achieve the perfection she had hoped would win her mother’s love, and forces her to confront, understand, and ultimately cast out—in startling physical form—the demons within herself. Powerful, insightful, unforgettable, by “a writer of extraordinary gifts” (Tobias Wolff), Kathryn Harrison’s The Mother Knot is a knockout.
Early on an April morning, eighteen-year-old Billy Frank Gilley, Jr., killed his sleeping parents. Surprised in the act by his younger sister, Becky, he turned on her as well. Billy then climbed the stairs to the bedroom of his other sister, Jody, and said, “We’re free.” But is one ever free after an unredeemable act of violence? The Gilley family murders ended a lifetime of physical and mental abuse suffered by Billy and Jody at the hands of their parents. And it required each of the two survivors–one a convicted murderer, the other suddenly an orphan–to create a new identity, a new life.
Beautiful, charismatic, destructive, May escapes an ar-ranged marriage in rural nineteenth-century China for life in a Shanghai brothel, where she meets Arthur, an Australian whose philanthropic pursuits lead him into one scrape after another. As a member of the Foot Emancipation Society, Arthur calls on May not for his pleasure but for her rehabilitation, only to find himself immediately and helplessly seduced by the sight of her bound feet. Reforming May is out of the question, so love-struck Arthur marries her instead and brings her home to live with him, his sister and brother-in-law, and their two girls, Alice and Cecily. In Alice, May sees the possibility of redemption: a surrogate for a child she has lost. And it is to May that Alice turns for the love her own mother withholds. But when the twelve-year-old is caught preparing her aunt's opium pipe, she is shipped off to a London boarding school, far from the dangerous influence of the woman who will come to reclaim her and to control the whole family.
The Binding Chair unfolds among scenes of astonishing beauty and cruelty, in a lawless place where traditions and cultures clash, and where tragedy threatens a world built on the banks of unsettled waters--from the bustling Whangpoo River to the lake of blood in the Chinese afterworld. By turns shocking, exquisite, and hilarious, The Binding Chair is another spellbinding literary triumph by the writer whose work Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times has called "powerful and hypnotic."
Ann Rogers appears to be a happily married, successful young woman. A talented photographer, she creates happy memories for others, videotaping weddings, splicing together scenes of smiling faces, editing out awkward moments. But she cannot edit her own memories so easily–images of a childhood spent as her father’s model and muse, the subject of his celebrated series of controversial photographs. To cope, Ann slips into a secret life of shame and vice. But when the Museum of Modern Art announces a retrospective of her father’s shocking portraits, Ann finds herself teetering on the edge of self-destruction, desperately trying to escape the psychological maelstrom that threatens to consume her.
“Astounding . . . told in prose as multifaceted as a diamond, crystalline and mesmerizing. ‘Remarkable’ hardly goes far enough.”
“Impossible to put down . . . Kathryn Harrison is an extremely gifted writer, poetic, passionate, and elegant.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“Exquisite, exhilarating, and harrowing.”
–Donna Tartt, author of The Secret History and The Little Friend
“A breathless urban nightmare not easy to forget. Stark, brilliant, and original work.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In essays written over the course of more than a decade, Kathryn Harrison has created a beautifully detailed and rigorously honest family album. With tenderness and wisdom, compassion and humor, Harrison writes about the things we don’t always discuss, casting light on what lurks beneath the surface of everyday life, sifting through the artifacts of memory to find what haunts and endures.
Both serious and surprising, these essays capture the moments and impulses that shape a family. In “Keeping Vigil,” Harrison reflects on the loss of her beloved father-in-law, and how he managed to repair something her own father had broken. In “Holiday Lies,” she describes the uneasy but necessary task of lying to her children about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, withholding certain truths to protect their innocence. In “Mini-Me,” she writes about how the birth of her youngest daughter—who used to pry open a sleeping Harrison’s eyes—finally allowed her to understand her own mother’s complicated attitudes about parenting. And in “True Crime,” Harrison writes for the first time in the almost two decades since the publication of The Kiss about her affair with her father, and how she has reckoned with the girl she once was.
With gorgeous prose and unflinching self-examination, True Crimes is a powerful and unforgettable literary tour de force.
Praise for True Crimes
“I found myself mesmerized by Harrison’s nervy confessions: odd and idiosyncratic, as original as any personal disclosures I’ve read and yet not obviously calculated for inflammatory effect. . . . Here, as in all of Harrison’s nonfiction, there’s a magnetic and almost mystical weirdness roiling beneath a seemingly placid surface.”—The New York Times Book Review
“It’s hard to think of other memoirists who match not just Harrison’s unsparing clarity of vision, but her empathy for both her loved ones and her tormentors. . . . Harrison is doubly gifted: She is able both to see her world with painful clarity, and to share this clarity with us.”—New Republic
“Revelatory in its honesty about everything from her scorching childhood to the push and pull of marriage.”—More
“A beautifully written and wonderful book about almost everything that means anything in life: love, family, loss and betrayal, death, joy. It is heartbreaking, funny, direct, elliptical, and somehow pulls a provocative healing thread of meaning from generation to generation, from husband to wife, and from life to death to life again.”—Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D.
“In these essays, Harrison approaches her own past as a mystery—at once elusive and unshakable—and excavates its nuances with tender rigor. Her memories emerge less like artifacts and more like luminous veins of quicksilver, constantly diverging and reconnecting.”—Leslie Jamison
“With its sharp, haunting portraits, this gorgeous and unsettling book is like the most honest family album ever.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux shows us the pampered daughter of successful and deeply religious tradespeople who-through a personal appeal to the pope-entered a convent at the early age of fifteen. There, Thérèse embraced sacrifice and self-renunciation in a single-minded pursuit of the "nothingness" she felt would bring her closer to God. With feeling, Harrison shows us the sensitive four-year-old whose mother's death haunted her forever and contributed to the ascetic spirituality that strengthened her to embrace even the deadly throes of tuberculosis. Tellingly placed in the context of late-nineteenth-century French social and religious practices, this is a powerful story of a life lived with enormous passion and a searing, triumphant voyage of the spirit.
“Part love story, part history, this novel is a tour de force [told] in language that soars and sears.”—More
St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to her son, the headstrong prince Alyosha, who suffers from hemophilia. Soon after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and the Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha find solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, and to distract the prince from the pain she cannot heal, Masha tells him stories—some embellished and others entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s exploits, and their wild and wonderful country, now on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.
Praise for Enchantments
“A sumptuous, atmospheric account of the last days of the Romanovs from the perspective of Rasputin’s daughter, [told] with the sensuous, transporting prose that is Kathryn Harrison’s trademark.”—Jennifer Egan
“[A] splendid and surprising book . . . Harrison has given us something enduring.”—The New York Times Book Review
“[Harrison delivers] this oft-told moment with shocking freshness. . . . Masha re-invents our ideas of Rasputin, and the world of Nicholas and Alexandra is imbued with a glow whose fierceness is governed by the imminence of its loss.”—Los Angeles Times
“A mesmerizing novel.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“Bewitching . . . Harrison sets historic facts like jewels in this intricately fashioned work of exalted empathy and imagination, a literary Fabergé egg. . . . [A] dazzling return to historical fiction.”—Booklist (starred review)
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