From memoirist and novelist Harrison (The Seal Wife, 2002, etc.), a collection of personal essays on love, longing, loss, and childhood.
Having revealed her incestuous relationship with her father in The Kiss (1997), the author here explores how her life was transformed by longing for her mother, who abandoned her early to the care of her grandparents. Mom left her behind, Harrison learned, as a replacement daughter, in essence using her as a hostage to buy her own freedom. Now a parent herself, Harrison writes from a safe distance of her mother and grandmother, the two women she loved, and of her own childhood. At age six, a transcendent experience in the arms of Christian Scientist practitioner made her believe that the spirit could conquer matter and that it was within her power to transform herself into an object worthy of her remote mother’s love. From this conclusion followed such self-destructive behavior as mortification of the flesh, bulimia, and shoplifting. Harrison’s childhood and youth were lonely times when she strained to be loved and, failing that, escaped into an interior landscape of her own creation. Yet her writing also contains humor: a vivid account of her grandmother’s passion for cats and their futile attempts to breed Himalayans at home, for example, and a delightful description of their misadventures at the DMV, where she twice helped her aging grandmother cheat to get her driver’s license renewed. Scenes from Harrison’s life as an adult show her working to be the kind of mother she never knew. Some depict quiet, introspective moments as she ponders the difference between her children’s lives and her own childhood; others are fraught with anxiety as she fights to protect them from the world’s evils, though the enemy may be merely a single blood-bloated tick or an invasion of recalcitrant head lice.
Poignant glimpses into the life of a survivor.