THICKER THAN WATER by Kathryn Harrison


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Given the overfamiliarity of this first novel's subject--the self-destructive dynamic set in motion by a punitive, withholding mother and absent father--it's a testament to Harrison's measurable talent that we allow ourselves to be drawn into narrator Isabel's sordid plight. And we do. Conceived illegitimately, Isabel is raised by her grandparents when her own parents' teen-age marriage abruptly ends. Her mother--sensual, eccentric, and elusive--lives nearby and manages to spend just enough time with Isabel to leave her a legacy of rejection. Her obsessive father, whom Isabel has met only three times before he foists an incestuous relationship on her at age 18, leaves his own devastating mark. Finally, however, brought to the brink of destruction as she caretakes her mother, who is ravaged by terminal breast cancer, Isabel manages some clarity and ultimately succeeds in transcending her past. In its extremity, Harrison's fiction at times articulates the human condition, as when Isabel confesses, ""I sought out other people whose love was notable for its limitation. I loved those best who clearly had less than I needed in return. One drop of balm for an acre of dry need."" After an initial falter, the narrative builds, compelling us along Isabel's dark journey, pinpointed by lyric yet incisive images--such as a saved piece of her mother's crumbling, peeled skin or the faint green dust left on a palm by the wings of an escaping moth. A promising debut, distinguished in particular by the strength of its mesmerizing voice.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0812979729
Publisher: Random House