MARKING TIME by Jean Harris


Letters from Jean Harris to Shana Alexander
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 Intelligence, compassion, gently ironic humor, a total absence of pretension, and a plucky resolve to live well and productively even in a deadening environment--all pervade these letters from prisoner Harris to Shana Alexander, her biographer (Very Much A Lady, 1983) and friend. Convicted of killing her lover, renowned ``Scarsdale Diet'' doctor Herman Tarnower, a bit over ten years ago, Harris was sentenced to New York's Bedford Hills Correction Facility; her repeated appeals for clemency have been unavailing. These letters reveal her efforts to keep spirit and mind alive, chiefly by reading widely and continuing a lifetime commitment to the welfare of children (Harris was a teacher and headmistress of a prestigious girls' school), by teaching a parenting class to her fellow inmates, and by working in a Bedford center for the children of prisoners. Prison life is made more difficult for Harris by the cruel twitting of guards who perceive her as a privileged society lady (`` `Where you goin' in such a hurry, Princess Di? You ain't in no hurry. You got time. You got plenty time' ''). Never dull, despite the unrelieved dullness of the world they describe, the letters occasionally rise to eloquence, are poignant at some moments and sharply humorous at others (as when Harris takes on the charge that Bedford is ``a country club'' and delivers a bitingly satirical comparison from the point of view of someone who once knew country clubs well). Annotations would have helped uninformed readers, by noting, for instance, exactly when Harris was incarcerated and how long her sentence is, what her specific role is in the Children's Center (was she a founder?), and who key characters are--many of whom are mentioned only by first name, most notably ``Hy''--Harris's murdered lover. Memorable missives that will make every reader wonder how much longer Harris will be forced to mark time.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-684-19367-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1991