By Olivia Stephani | March 6, 2023
Photo Credit: Goodreads
Warning: There are multiple triggering topics discussed in this book.
I usually read fiction novels and rarely, if ever, read non-fiction or memoirs. But this book was assigned to me in a class, so either way, I was reading it. Despite my normal aversion to memoirs, this book instantly caught my attention when I read the synopsis. I was absolutely blown away with Harrison’s magnificent prose, striking honesty, and heartbreaking true story.
The Kiss tells the life story of author Kathryn Harrison; more specifically, her relationship with her father during her adolescent years. Harrison shares that as a baby, her father left her family and had no interest in raising her. Growing up with a single, narcissistic mother, she struggled with eating disorders, self-harm, and even extreme forms of competition with her mother. Her relationship with her mother, and herself, were anything but healthy. That is why when her father entered the picture again at age eighteen, Kathryn was vulnerable enough to let him back into her life.
The title itself is an absolute brilliant play on words. The specific “kiss”, as indicated in the title, signifies the abrupt change in Kathryn’s relationship with her father; the shattered assumptions of what their relationship could have been. It occurred after her first reunion with her father, in which he kissed her forcefully on her mouth. As disturbing as this detail is, their relationship only escalates from there, and becomes incestuous. Though the specifics of their physical relationship are rarely disclosed in the book, with good reason, it is clear that Harrison was manipulated in a type of Stockholm Syndrome dynamic that perversely gave her the love and attention she so desperately craved growing up. He kept her mentally captive with manipulation and love bombing, telling her that she only needed him in her life and no one else. She slowly lost everything; her friends, family, and even dropped out of school to devote all of her time to her father.
The author never writes in a way that is self-deprecating or self-pitying. Instead, she formulates her emotions to make readers feel confusion, hatred, and love all at once with masterful prose and vocabulary. She compares her father to an absence or a hole in her life, to represent the emptiness that the lack of his presence brought her, while also showing the ability to be filled by his presence. She writes in the present tense, to make readers feel as though they, too, are in the present. Her tone throughout seems detached, as though she cannot confront the story fully. There are so many ambiguities surrounding this book and how you should feel about it.
There is no doubt that she is a victim, but many readers have criticized Kathryn for her honesty about her willingness to have relations with her father. I think that her honesty is commendable. There is a reason why so many people were uncomfortable with her candor: because it is often unheard of in situations such as hers. I’ve never read a memoir, let alone book in general, as harrowing as this one. Her story is one that needed to be heard, despite the discomfort of it.
The Kiss is a courageous story that is a must read, and that’s coming from a fiction reader.