MY FATHER'S HOUSE: A Memoir of Incest and of Healing by Sylvia Fraser
Kirkus Star

MY FATHER'S HOUSE: A Memoir of Incest and of Healing

Email this review


Fraser's intense and searching memoir draws on much of the same material as Pandora (1973), her first novel, but here she concentrates on a repressed incestuous relationship with her father that went undetected but shadowed her personal development. It's an extremely adept presentation of a repugnant situation, to which Fraser brings literary gifts, vital insights, and a remarkable capacity for forgiveness. Blond and pretty, Fraser grew up her daddy's favorite (as incest daughters often do). By the middle of elementary school, she managed to block out memories of his advances and those of a neighbor who, overhearing them, also abused her. She had an otherwise paradigmatic Canadian girlhood, defined by an enduring circle of friends, the activities they enjoyed, and their basically stable school identities. But she created a second self who knew about those troubling experiences and provided a refuge for the distress they generated. Eventually, as a teen-ager, she refused her father adamantly and went on to considerable fulfillment in college, in her marriage, and in a journalism career without ever articulating the nature of their relationship. She was in her 40s when things started to come undone, when she tapped into submerged feelings and uncovered, bit by bit, the provoking traces of that early entanglement. ""All of us are born into the second act of a tragedy-in-progress, then spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out what went wrong in the first act."" Fraser's account of that gradual recollection is very powerful, almost too smooth in its rendering of her long-delayed recognition, subsequent disclosure to the few involved, and the relief of corroboration. But her continuing candor--suspicions about an embittered aunt, reflections on the sexual violence in her novels--is exemplary; she has transformed tragic circumstances into a compelling work and restored herself as well.

Pub Date: June 6th, 1988
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin