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Seeking Rapture: Scenes from a Woman's Life Paperback – June 1, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007705638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007705634
  • ASIN: 0812972058
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,578,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harrison's affinity for vivisecting the soft underbelly of social mores-displayed in The Kiss, The Binding Chair, etc.-is vividly apparent in this series of autobiographical essays. Detailing aspects of a privileged girlhood lived with eccentric maternal grandparents while yearning to be with her beautiful but promiscuous mother (Harrison's parents married at 18 because Harrison's mother was pregnant; her father, the subject of The Kiss, vanished soon after), Harrison reveals bouts with eating disorders as well as an attraction to religious fervor (the rapture of the title). Raised concurrently with Christian Science and Catholicism, Harrison is fascinated by the complications wrought on the spirit by the body. She records bodily functions-e.g., vomiting, lice picking, childbirth-as avidly as she recounts the grisly mortifications of the flesh inflicted upon the saints. (In describing her mother's early death from breast cancer and her reaction to it, she illuminates the tale of St. Catherine of Siena's drinking of the cancerous pus of an enemy.) At times the prose sings, at others it merely plunks. Many of these essays are more self-revelatory than self-exploratory. The most evocative piece, the title essay, shows Harrison at her thoughtful, provocative best, mindful of the flaws and desires within everyone, while the essay on nitpicking for lice depicts an almost callous disregard for racial and class differences.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Diabolically compelling, Harrison holds readers' attention even when they find her fascination with obsession and pain more morbid than illuminating. In her fiction, which includes The Seal Wife [BKL Ap 1 02], her taste for dark emotional extremes is alluringly venturesome, but in The Kiss (1997), her notorious memoir about her affair with her father, and now in her first essay collection, it can be transgressive. Harrison is daringly confessional and ravishingly poetic in her re-creation of her stressful California childhood, during which she did not know her father and slavishly worshiped her young, glamorous, ice-queen mother while her maternal grandparents raised her with a bewildering mix of quaint strictness and unintentional laissez-faire. No reader could ask for a more intriguing figure than Harrison's grandmother, who was born Jewish and raised in Shanghai, and the evolution of their complex love plays in plangent counterpoint to Harrison's tragic failure to win her mother's affection. Harrison's family portraits are vivid, involving, and resonant, as is her frank chronicling of her unhealthy beguilement with the martyrdom of women saints and her corresponding anorexia. Unfortunately, Harrison veers from the courageously cathartic to the dismayingly aberrant in excessive and creepy broodings over ticks, head lice, and cat births, oddities that detract from her otherwise lancing inquiry into longing and loss, fetishistic mourning and brute survival, and, finally, the miracle of munificent love. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Author Photo by Joyce Ravid.

Kathryn Harrison was born in 1961 in Los Angeles, California, where she was raised by her mother's parents. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the Iowa Writers Workshop, where, in 1986, she met her husband, the novelist Colin Harrison. They had a first date on Friday, April 25, and on Monday, April 28, they moved in together. The Harrisons married in 1988, and live in Brooklyn with their three children. Kathryn writes novels, memoirs, personal essays, biography, and true crime. She is a frequent reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, and teaches memoir at Hunter College's MFA program in Creative Writing, in New York City.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Caroline P. Hampton on June 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
There is no doubt that Kathryn Harrison can hold a readers attention in the palm of her hand like no other author out there. Her previous work, "The Seal Wife", "The Binding Chair", "Poison", "Exposure" and my personal favorite "The Kiss" are some of the most powerful, complex and impossible to put down.
Ms. Harrison's newest book, "Seeking Rapture - Scenes From A Woman's Life" are selected stories from a life of many levels. From the abandonment of a mother, betrayal of a father, motherhood and lighter mood stories of cheating on her driver's test, Ms. Harrison's work is never boring and always effective.
"Seeking Rapture" is a wonderful collection of prose from an exceptionally talented writer who never seems to shy away from the taboo or shocking and, I really admire her for that.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MICHAEL ACUNA on July 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
While Kathryn Harrison is in a New Delhi hotel lobby she hears the following spoken on Indian TV by an ascetic: "Human Destiny is a field that is sown with misfortune." And this pretty much sums up this collection of intelligent, insightful, funny, sad recollections or "Scenes from a Woman's Life" by Harrison.
In "Seeking Rapture," Harrison lays bare her soul, opens up her veins and in the process reveals a tortured relationship with her family and specifically her mother: "Mysteriously, unexpectedly, this stranger (a Christian Scientist practitioner) had ushered me into an experience I cannot help but call rapture. I felt myself separated from my flesh and from all earthly things...I had no words for what happened---I have few now, almost forty years later...I learned at aged six, that transcendence was possible: that spirit could conquer matter, and that therefore I could overcome whatever obstacles prevented my mother's loving me. I could overcome myself."
But like many who have tortured relationships with a parent, Harrison cannot help but be the dutiful daughter and when her mother becomes ill, she attends to her: "In trying to explain why she (Harrison's mother) had been so remote, my mother told me that inside herself she had discovered a fortress, assembled brick by brick by psychic brick to defend herself against my grandmother. `The problem is,' she said, starting to cry, `I don't know the way out. I'm stuck inside myself."
So much of this book is so honest and probing that you will have a hard time reading through some sections without wincing at the truthful, heartfelt prose. But what you also take with you after the last page is read is the feeling that for Harrison these recollections equal catharsis. As she writes in "Mother's Day Card" when she talks to her dead mother at the side of her children's beds: "Each night, by their beds, knees mortified by Lego, elbows planted among stuffed animals, I'm being rehabilitated."
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Harrison's difficult childhood provides the framework for this collection of interwoven essays. Born to a mother who got pregnant right out of high school, Kathryn's life was colored by the harsh fact that her mother had little maternal instinct. Her parents divorced after a six-month marriage, and her father withdrew from her life.
The task of raising her fell to her mother's parents. Her eccentric grandmother, a sprightly, petite woman, alternately spoiled her, then chastised her. "I took you in. You ungrateful girl."
Her mother waltzes in and out, fanning the flames of the young daughter's yearning. It leaves a hunger deep within, that will haunt her throughout life.
There are fascinating facts woven throughout the book. Harrison's grandmother's formative years were spent in Shanghai, and we learn much about the culture in "Interior Castles." In "Seeking Rapture" Harrison writes about the various religious forays of her family. From a birthright of Judaism, to Christian Science, then Catholicism, we are given insights into the doctrines of Mary Baker Eddy, as well as thoughts on saints like Frances Xavier Cabrini.
In "What Remains" she examines death from many angles,pondering the meaning behind the keeping of relics. Her mother's death from breast cancer, when Kathryn was just 24, had seared her deeply. "Is it because I have had more occasions to consider death than most women my age that I find the remains of the dead, both their bodies and their possessions so compelling? My grandparents and my mother all died beofre I turned thirty, within the same few years. I saved relics of each of these people I loved: locks of hair, photographs, jewelry, letters."
She shares her descent into anorexia and bulemia, and we watch her grapple with, then come to terms with her griefs.
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