Kathryn Harrison

Classics with bite, recommended by the author of Enchantments.

In novels like Exposure, Thicker than Water, and Poison, Kathryn Harrison tells the stories of women pushed to the edge — of sanity, of control, of financial ruin — who must confront both their self-destructive impulses and the harm inflicted on them by others. Her new novel, Enchantments, is set during the final days of Russia’s Romanov Empire. As revolution looms, Rasputin’s 18-year-old daughter and Prince Alyosha find solace in each other’s company. This week, she points us to a diverse trio of arresting classics that take readers from Gilded Age New York to the fever-dreams of American desire and Soviet-era madness.

Books by Kathryn Harrison

The House of Mirth

By Edith Wharton

“A novel of manners whose doomed heroine commands the sympathy necessary for a reader to follow her to her tragic end, the story of Lily Bart reads like the proverbial car-wreck. It’s going to turn out badly; human mistakes — even seemingly small ones — unfold through time to create dire traps. But we can’t stop watching and hoping for the reversal that will save Lily.”


By Vladimir Nabokov

“An unreliable narrator confesses his erotic fixation on a fatherless girl who, at the death of her mother, he spirits away on a tragicomic road trip across America. Flamboyant in style, sharp in wit, cruel, comic, and morally ambiguous, this is no cautionary tale but a suspenseful examination of the complexity of human personality and the power of forbidden desire.”

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov

“Beginning with the Devil and his entourage arriving in Soviet Moscow to stir up trouble, this is a novel like no other. A satire and a love story, a philosophical inquiry into human existence where God has been outlawed, it’s funny and sad and mysterious, proving that under the drab surface of Stalinism the true Russia, fierce and fey, was always alive and ultimately irrepressible.”