Kirkus Star


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Harris, a lady who believes in integrity, good manners, responsibility to others and right and wrong, is serving 15 years to life for the premeditated murder of ""Scarsdale Diet Doctor"" Herman Tarnower. This is her life story--at least as much of it as a fastidious woman like Harris is capable of revealing. She was born into an upper middle-class Cleveland Heights family in which ""feelings were something never discussed."" A bookworm, she describes herself as ""prudish"" during her Smith College days. But, like girls of her generation, she married one year after graduation. As a young matron she lived in the upscale Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, had two sons, and broke the mold slightly by having a career as a private-school teacher. Her life ""smacked of Dick and Jane,"" she says; and she asked for a divorce after 19 years of marriage. She became a middle-school director for a private academy and shortly thereafter met Tarnower at a dinner party; she was then 42. He ""played a key role in uninhibiting me,"" she says. He also taught her to question absolutes and took her all over the world. In 1980, depressed after three harrowing but highly productive years as headmistress of the Madeira School in Virginia, her mind ""a shambles,"" she says she decided to commit suicide. But she also ""wanted to see Hy for a few moments; just chat with him one more time."" This quiet chat, Harris says, ended up in a struggle over her gun: Tarnower died. Up to the point Harris enters the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, she tells her story with austere and impressive eloquence, apart from a few false notes when she is patently uncomfortable in discussing her relationship with Tarnower. But now the pages catch fire. As a school mistress, she had tried to inspire excellence and compassion into her privileged students. Now she is faced with society's rejects and those who guard them. Her passion becomes the children of the inmates; her compassion (and also revulsion) is directed at the imprisoned women. Her vitriol is vented on those correction officers who abuse their power in infantile ways. She is deeply involved in a center for the inmates' children, and also teaches courses to the women in parenting skills and basic education. An extraordinary book by a woman capable of language as pure and structurally powerful as a steel-arched bridge.

Pub Date: July 30th, 1986
Publisher: Macmillan