The Kiss

The Kiss


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812979718
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/12/2011
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 481,647
Product dimensions: 5.06(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.59(d)

About the Author

Kathryn Harrison's novels include Thicker than Water and Exposure, both New York Times Notable Books, and Poison, called "powerful and hypnotic" by The New York Times and "a masterpiece" by Lucy Grealy.  Harrison lives in New York.

Read an Excerpt

We meet at airports. We meet in cities where we've never been before. We meet where no one will recognize us.

One of us flies, the other brings a car, and in it we set out for some destination. Increasingly, the places we go are unreal places: the Petrified Forest, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon -- places as stark and beautiful and deadly as those revealed in satellite photographs of distant planets. Airless, burning, inhuman.

Against such backdrops, my father takes my face in his hands. He tips it up and kisses my closed eyes, my throat. I feel his fingers in the hair at the nape of my neck. I feel his hot breath on my eyelids.

We quarrel sometimes, and sometimes we weep. The road always stretches endlessly ahead and behind us, so that we are out of time as well as out of place. We go to Muir Woods in northern California, so shrouded in blue fog that the road is lost; and we drive down the Natchez Trace into deep, green Mississippi summer. The trees bear blossoms big as my head; their ivory petals drift to the ground and cover our tracks.

Separated from family and from the flow of time, from work and from school; standing against a sheer face of red rock one thousand feet high; kneeling in a cave dwelling two thousand years old; watching as a million bats stream from the mouth of Carlsbad Caverns into the purple dusk -- these nowheres and no-times are the only home we have.


On Friday, June 26th, welcomed Kathryn Harrison to discuss THE KISS.

Moderator: Welcome, Kathryn Harrison! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Kathryn Harrison: I am doing fine, thank you. Thanks for having me. from AOL: Was there a single defining conscious moment that you knew that you were going to write this book?

Kathryn Harrison: Yes, I had written a couple of pieces of it in essay form, but I was working on a novel that was not going as well as I had hoped, and I had a meeting with my editor. We discussed what was wrong with the novel, and while I hadn't intended to say this, I found myself suggesting to throw the current novel out and begin a new book. And my editor asked what I wanted to write. I said I wanted to write a nonfiction book about my relationship with my father. I found myself shocked. She was shocked, too. It was never anything that I planned to write.

Cynthia Clark from Phoenix, AZ: Do you read your reviews? If so, how does the review of a memoir differ in personal effects from that of a review of one of your novels? I'm thinking of a review of THE KISS in The Washington Post, I believe, that seemed a total personal attack and also, to me, raised the question, "If a story doesn't 'belong' to the person who lived it, who does it belong to?"

Kathryn Harrison: The first thing I would like to say is that all work is autobiographical, so there is a less difference between a novel and a memoir than a reader might casually suppose -- not that memoirs are untruthful, but that fiction novels are terribly autobiographical. I feel as intimately connected to my fiction as my nonfiction, and I read my reviews. The Jonathan Yardley review in The Washington Post was certainly a personal attack and was followed by two further attacks on the op-ed page. While the first one stung, I was grateful ultimately that it was so vitriolic, because it seems to have far more to do with Mr. Yardley than it did with me. In that case, the extreme, almost hysterical tone of the review gave away its total lack of objectivity.

Becky from Austin, TX: THICKER THAN WATER is the same story but fiction. How do you respond to critics who say it is the same story twice?

Kathryn Harrison: THE KISS was in many ways a response to my own disappointment with my first novel, THICKER THAN WATER. The story is the same, and yet the narrator of my first novel is younger than I was when I met my father. She is more passive and more of a victim of her father's lust and cruelty than I knew myself to be. In that sense, I felt after the publication of THICKER THAN WATER that I had betrayed my own story and what I understood to be true about a very painful passage in my life. At the time that I began THE KISS, I was prepared to be honest with myself and with readers about my life as a young woman, especially about the angry, destructive relationship I had with my mother. As a person and as a writer, I felt that I needed to own the story as a work of nonfiction. While the differences between the two books may not be dramatic to a casual reader, they are to me.

Beth from Massachusetts: First I want to tell you how absolutely spellbinding I found THE KISS. With such honesty in your reflections, were you concerned about reactions from those who knew you -- family and so on? How did you handle those concerns if you had them?

Kathryn Harrison: While I never told this story to anyone besides my husband and two very close friends, I don't think it came as a surprise to those who know me. My grandparents and my mother are dead. My children are too young to know about either the story or the book. I was worried about telling my husband's parents. This is probably the last story anybody would want to share with their in-laws. But I knew them well enough to anticipate their support. The shortest answer to the question was that I had come to a point where my relationship with myself and with the truth was more important than what anybody might think about me. My only remaining concern is the necessity of sharing this with my children, but it is a story I planned to tell them anyway when they are ready, and that is separate from the book.

Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: So, it's a year later. Would you write this book again if you had a chance to do it all over?

Kathryn Harrison: Absolutely!

James Covington from Raleigh, North Carolina: As a child, were you inspired by any one particular person? Who was that person?

Kathryn Harrison: As a young child, Helen Keller and Amelia Earhart. When I was a little older, I had a feverish relationship with certain Catholic saints.

Megan from Brooklyn: I just started reading the book. What was your mother's reaction to THE KISS? How about your father?

Kathryn Harrison: Well, my mother is dead, and I have been estranged from my father for 12 years.

Emmie from Hoboken: How does your writing schedule differ from that of your husband's? Do you ever collaborate or offer suggestions on each other's works? MANHATTAN NOCTURNE was a stunning novel and I still retain vivid images from EXPOSURE even though I read it three years ago (I always get paranoid when I go to Tiffany's). I love reading your work as well as your husband's.

Kathryn Harrison: My best work hours are during the day, when my kids are in school. My husband [Colin Harrison] is the deputy editor of Harper's magazine, so he works during the night, during the weekends, whenever he can. We do read each other's work and offer suggestions, although I am far more secretive about mine and rarely share it in process.

Dutch from Independence, MO: Did you draw this book from personal diaries, or did you just remember everything that happened?

Kathryn Harrison: I am not a journal keeper, so I had few personal records other than correspondence. My father was a daily letter writer, and reviewing his letters reminded me of a few things and helped to clarify chronology.

Phillip from Darien, CT: Did your father's parishioners ever find out about this affair?

Kathryn Harrison: Not to my knowledge.

Paula from Hanover, NH: Do you feel like your father took advantage of you? Do you feel like you were in full possession of your reasoning abilities at the age that this affair happened?

Kathryn Harrison: Yes, I suppose he did take advantage of me. He was a good deal older. When I met my father, I was incapable of turning down attention or love in any form, and I was deeply ensnared in a troubled relationship with my mother, one through which I filtered all experience. I suppose that adds up to my being confused. And not in full possession of my reasoning abilities. It was not an affair that had anything to do with being rational.

Helen Simmons from La Jolla: I hear that you have gotten a big response from other women who have been in a similar situation. Do you respond to them all? What do you say?

Kathryn Harrison: I always answer my author mail. And what I say really depends on the letter I receive.

Anna from Schenectady, NY: What are your thoughts on the popularity of memoirs? Do you think it's a recent thing or do you agree that memoirs have always been part of the literary landscape?

Kathryn Harrison: Memoirs have certainly existed at least since St. Augustine. We seem to be experiencing a period of enthusiasm for their apparent authenticity. Voyeurism is a part of human nature, and memoirs feed the same need that has inspired so many talk shows, and Real Life TV.

Tabitha from Greenwich, CT: Dear Ms. Harrison, I want to commend you on a great book with THE KISS. What are you working on now? What can we expect next from you, and when will it be published?

Kathryn Harrison: I am finishing up a novel that is loosely based on parts of my grandmother's early life. I expect that it will be published in about a year.

Miriam Weathers from Golden, CO: Was writing this book cathartic in any way? Did it help you heal from this experience? Also, isn't it hard to have so many people know so many details -- and make so many judgments --about your life?

Kathryn Harrison: It wasn't so much cathartic as it was my coming to terms with an acutely painful relationship that I had in some measure denied for years. There is relief in admitting what happened and accepting my responsibility. I am sure this will always remain painful. As for my privacy, most of my life remains hidden and is not available for comment. I am not terribly concerned with what people think of me. My sense of my public self is invested in the quality of my work.

Terrence from Medford, MA: Will we ever see this story on the big screen?

Kathryn Harrison: There are no plans as of now.

Kim from Out There: Did you find yourself in therapy because of what happened between you and your father?

Kathryn Harrison: I am still in therapy because of what happened between me and my mother.

Joe from Baltimore: Good evening, Ms. Harrison. In reply to a previous question concerning the character in THICKER THAN WATER, you said that that character was "more passive and more of a victim of her father's lust and cruelty than you knew yourself to be." Is it because of the age difference, or willingness, between yourself and the character, that you consider yourself "less" victimized?

Kathryn Harrison: Both...

Michelle Williams from College Park, GA: What does your father think about your writing this memoir? Has he accepted it, or is he in denial about what happened?

Kathryn Harrison: I have no contact with my father and haven't for many years.

Cory from Houston: How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you first get published?

Kathryn Harrison: What I really wanted to be was a doctor. Writing is an addiction and the way I explain the world to myself.

Bailey from Richmond,VA: Did you tell your friends about your affair with your father when it was going on? Did you confide in anyone?

Kathryn Harrison: No one.

Kyle Schwartz from Brooklyn: Will you ever write a book with your husband, Colin Harrison? Thanks for taking my question, Ms. Harrison.

Kathryn Harrison: We collaborate on so many other things, I don't think we will be writing a book together.

Marlene from Yardley, PA: Were you acting out of some sort of rebellion against your mother? I haven't read THE KISS, but I am curious about your relationship with your mom.

Kathryn Harrison: My mother was a very young and troubled mother whom I loved without measure. By the time I had met my father, I was very angry with her for abandoning me. The three of us became ensnared in a love triangle. I understood that my mother was still in love with my father, and his obsession with me was valuable for the pain it caused her. I guess that adds up to acting out.

Moderator: We're thrilled you could take time out of a hot New York day to chat with us, Kathryn Harrison. It's been a fascinating discussion. Do you have any final words for the online audience?

Kathryn Harrison: I would just like to thank everyone for their interest. So much of writing is isolated, and I always value the chance to meet readers.

Customer Reviews

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The Kiss: A Memoir 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Kiss is an excellent book. It shows such great insight into how perversity is not only passed down through generations but justified by the offenders themselves. The perverse nature of her Father's affections born of a infantile psyche serve to remind us that sexual predators cross both boundaries of economic and educational position. The examples of what has taken place in this authors life are constant reminders that there is a Great Difference between a Mature Being who understands and respects the sacred boundaries of Father, Daughter or any other immediate family member. It's a fine line between perverse desire and what is truly love. From the moment I started this book I simply couldn't put it down. Now this should be a recommended reader in Universities across the nation. There are so many blatant abuses of definitions and intentions as it pertains to love and loving. I believe the author gives us, through her own experiences, knowledge to better arm ourselves and our loved ones against such infantile beings that may exist in our own immediate families. Thank you so much for having the courage to share your personal story with so many of us out here.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about the struggle of a girl that wanted to liberate herself from her unloving mother and her obsessive father. Kathryn grew up with her grandparents and her emotionally distant mother. Her mother was always too busy, involved in herself, sleeping, and lived in a world that her daughter did not take part in. She met her father 20 years into her life, when she was entering college. Seeking that comfort and love, she involved herself in an affair with her own father. That sense of belonging and love made her feel secure, but the truth was unbearable, even for her to handle. I would definitely recommend this book to people of all ages, especially young adults and teenagers. The topic is disconcerting, yet makes you reflect on your own life. Once you start reading, you won¿t want to put it down. It¿s written in a simplistic way, yet integrated me in it as if I was the protagonist. There were parts that were so emotionally disturbing, that they brought tears to my eyes. I can¿t express how much admiration I have for Kathryn. She¿s an admirable person for dealing with such a burden, at such a young age. It has made me realize how lucky I¿ve been and that what I have experienced is nothing in comparison to her story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book¿s title is The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison. This memoir is powerful, it¿s about the soul of a young girl and a terrible injury that happened between her and a man who should of protected her. Every so often a book come a long that will leave its readers disturbed, disrupted, and left in shock. A young girl had an unusual relationship with her father. A relationship that should not happen, she felt accepted only when she was with her father. Her father had a keen sense in making her feel welcome and accepted. That was the reason why she felt this love; hate feeling when she was around him. It was like she felt loved by him, but new the relationship was not right, nor it would not work out. I would recommend this book to young adults. I only say young adults because its context. They would feel sorry for this poor girl and feel a need to reach out and help young girls who are the exact same way. It made me realized how bad certain people have it and how lucky people are to have good lives. This book made me stronger and I know feel more powerful. I know what is right from wrong and how to stand on my own two feet. So yes I would recommend this book to young adults that need help with the same things that I did. Hopefully the people who read it will feel more at ease with their lives.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read 'The Kiss' when it was first published in 1998, having been a huge fan of Harrison's novel 'Poison'. I read this book in one evening. It is amazingly gripping despite the incest theme. I, like another reviewer, also had a relationship with a much older man, and did understand the intensity of the connection involved in such situations. In the case of the book, I feel it is also important to note that while the man WAS her father, he did not raise her. This, at least to me, seems to allow for a bit more sympathy and understanding. The book is fascinating in a perverse way, and I would especially recommend it if you're a fan of Harrison's other books.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a 15 year old girl with two parents, still married, who love me in the traditional way, I was definitely disturbed by this memoir. I couldn't put it down. The way in which everything was described made me feel surges of emotion that can't be put into words, except, of course, by Kathryn Harrison, who wrote about her dark secret beautifully. This book was something I picked up to pass a sick day home from school; I was fully unaware of what I was getting myself into. This is a masterpiece. It stirs the emotions inside, captivates, and almost doesn't allow for rest breaks. Thank you, Mrs. Harrison, for a most interesting day.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A true story of her life and relationships with her mother, grandparents and the father she never knew. Heartbreaking and shocking.
Stellaristic 6 months ago
julierh on LibraryThing 10 months ago
this moving account of the author's emotionally (and physically) unavailable mother and obnoxious, narcissistic father is charged with profound psychological wisdom; sad but rich with insight
icolford on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The story that Kathryn Harrison tells in her memoir "The Kiss" is narrated in such clean, tight prose, and with such devastating detachment, that the reader could almost be excused for missing the horror at its core. Harrison was the victim of what could be termed a "perfect storm" of parental dysfunction. The only daughter of parents who conceived too early and separated while still young, she was raised mostly by her maternal grandmother. Craving the affection of an emotionally withholding mother who drifted in and out of her life, she is ripe for the picking when her father re-appears when she is twenty. Emotionally fragile and naive, Harrison is unable to resist her father's forceful and uninhibited devotion, and the two embark on a lurid affair. In a short time her entire existence revolves around her father, and the sole thought in her head is to be with him. This continues even after she realizes he is a selfish manipulator and she is the victim of an unnatural sexual obsession. The affair concludes unceremoniously after a few years, and more than a decade later she produced this account, sparing herself nothing, dissecting her every action, motive and emotional state. A truly chilling book and something of a milestone in the art of the memoir.
schatzi on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Kathryn Harrison has a beautiful way with words, evocative without being flowery, rich with symbolism without being over the top. The subject matter is, of course, disturbing, but I found myself unable to put this book down. Although I doubt many readers will be able to relate to the relationship she ultimately had with her father, I know that I personally could relate to the author's desire to belong and be loved.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couid not finish this book. Sentences, paragraphs were fragmented. I suspect what the gist of the story is and it was not a comfortable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
StephWalker More than 1 year ago
This book was beautifully written by Kathryn Harrison, but I have to wonder what were her motives for publishing it? Was it part of the healing process to tell the world her story of incest with her father, or did she just do it for shock value and publicity? It was hard to put the book down and I would recommend it to anyone, but it's certainly not a book for everyone!
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suzyd More than 1 year ago
The subject matter is so utterly offensive and disturbing, it is hard to be objective. The story is interesting but you almost feel dirty for learning of such deep dark secrets. I really enjoyed the author's later novel on footbinding and had heard about her memoir. Obviously, she was able to move past such a troubling upbringing and go on to much success as a writer.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was weird, and not as in good weird. I picked it up at the airport, it's small and doesn't take long to read. I probably would not have finished it had been longer. I'd buy something else if I were you.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
i do enjoy a good novel, but this one lacks ALOT OF DETAIL, i wanted to hear how she felt with her feelings of detail,i didnt want to figure it out, i wanted to hear if from her and what she went through from detail to detail, and i got bored with the flip flop from adult hood to child hood.i felt like there was alot of repeating of the same thing, i just think the book could of been put together better than what it was, i was surprised how she never got hostile with what her father did to her,she took it very calmly and quiet me i feel like the book is unfinished, there was alot missing, but i can sympathize with her......sorry
Guest More than 1 year ago
A haunting tale, which is a story of control and abuse. Initially I was lead to believe that this was a sexual story, which it is not. The author writes in a haunting style that lets the reader draw their own conclusions. However, this is not a book for those that are squeamish and live their lives hiding from the truth. Definitely one of the best books that I have ever read. In reading this book, I understood a lot more about myself.