An Accidental Autobiography

Overview

Six years in the writing, from an author described as " brilliant," " masterful," and" at once a writer's writer and a pleasure giver to the world," An Accidental Autobiography will delight and enchant Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's legion of fans and win her a wealth of new readers as she turns her incantatory prose and remarkable powers of scrutiny on the life she's lived and the woman she's become. When asked to describe the book she was writing, she responded, " An autobiography in which I am not the main ...
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Overview

Six years in the writing, from an author described as " brilliant," " masterful," and" at once a writer's writer and a pleasure giver to the world," An Accidental Autobiography will delight and enchant Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's legion of fans and win her a wealth of new readers as she turns her incantatory prose and remarkable powers of scrutiny on the life she's lived and the woman she's become. When asked to describe the book she was writing, she responded, " An autobiography in which I am not the main character." In her unconventional though never arbitrary approach, she writes about memory, and since memories tend to attach themselves to things, she writes about collecting and acquiring them in the marvelous chapter, " Loot and Lists and Lust (and Things)." And since memories also attach themselves to people, in" Men and God(s)" she talks about men - those in her life and those who she's wished were. She remembers the rooms of her childhood and adolescence in" Rooms: Signs and Sy
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Explaining her autobiographical strategies, Harrison (The Astonishing World, etc.) writes, "This isn't a digression. In memory, which is not hierarchical, there are no digressions." Full of quirky tangents under whatever guise, her nonlinear memoir will enchant or infuriate readers, according to taste. Fully frank-or seemingly so-yet crowded with exotic and arcane allusions to decades of reading, travel, collecting, eating and loving, her story is also eccentric, dramatic, shocking, nostalgic, self-indulgent, pretentious, in places unreliable, ultimately boring. It is also repetitious, not only when Harrison looks back to her earlier books of memoirs and travel, but even within itself. She hangs chapters upon themes-housework, obesity, foreign places, illnesses, men in her life, lusts of all sorts. Harrison winds memories around them, from her pathetic upbringing in a Brooklyn tenement as child of a Jehovah's Witness convert, to a professional success hardly mentioned but symbolized repeatedly by a Manhattan high-rise apartment with rooftop pool. The same episodes, places and people keep turning up (some names are disguised). When her lists lengthen and proliferate, and she tucks in a chapter detailing her "scars and distinguishing marks," the reader may sense a fatal fading of inspiration-or, alternatively, the ultimate in self-revelation. Beginning, before its flashbacks, in a pulmonary clinic and concluding with Prozac, Harrison's autobiography may be the most sophisticated book one reads this year, or the most solipsistic. First serial to Harper's; author tour. (June)
Library Journal
Harrison (Italian Days, Ticknor & Fields, 1990) is a prolific writer whose midlife autobiography (she is in her sixties and the book took six years to write) is a potpourri of recollections and essay-length digressions. Her memories are those of an exuberant, sensual woman who, although she talks too much and occasionally repeats herself, is rarely boring. Emerging from the swirl of details are passionate anecdotes of her Brooklyn childhood, her unsympathetic parents (her mother was a Jehovah's Witness and her father once tried to strangle her), her children and pets, her phobias, her trips abroad, her first love, her last lover, and her ex-husband. While Harrison's undisciplined approach will not appeal to all readers, her fans and those intrigued by tell-all books will enjoy this cluttered, colorful collage. Recommended for public libraries and academic leisure collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/15/96.]-Carol Ann McAllister, Coll. of William & Mary Lib., Williamsburg, Va.
Kirkus Reviews
The joys of travel and and the pleasures of the flesh (especially eating) define a woman's life and a philosophy of excess. The anti-Walden.

Harrison (The Astonishing World, 1992, etc.), a long-time travel writer, starts her ninth book off poignantly: At age 60 she can barely breathe as a result of, among other things, a virus picked up on a trip to India. Alas, by the last chapter it is the reader who's gasping. Overwritten and random in form and content, this book is essentially a melding of essays penned over a six year period—some are indeed autobiographical while others pay tribute to her intellectual or materialistic heroes—that portray the author as a deprived child who grew up to drown her sorrows in indulgence. The foods she loves, the locales she adores, even the furnishings in her rooms, are described in such hedonistic and privileged terms that little sympathy can be felt for her terrible childhood as the daughter of a disturbed mother and a possibly homicidal father. There is quite an inventory of possessions, and a bit of namedropping as well: "A Courtier of the Nizam of Hyderabad gave me a string of carved, unpolished Mogul emeralds," she boasts. Not that there aren't some anecdotal pearls: In Bali, a monkey runs off with her Xanax, and later she discovers who owns Napoleon's much-traveled penis. The French emperor aside, Harrison writes much about the men in her life, but, with the exception of a beautiful six-page reverie of her relationship with a black jazz musician, her lovers are as lifeless as her collectibles. The former husband is referred to simply and always as Mr. Harrison. Putting him at a safe distance from her heart may protect her peace of mind, but it does little to deepen her memoir.

With no discernable lessons to be learned from this fragmentary record of a very full life, the reader might as well go shopping.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395780008
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 9/9/1996
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.53 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Harrison is a middle school English teacher and codirector of Children's Literature New England. She is coauthor with Daniel Terris of biographies of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, both based on the authors' award-winning HBO documentaries. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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