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The Mother Knot: A Memoir Paperback – July 12, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Memoirist and novelist Harrison (The Kiss; Seeking Rapture; The Seal Wife) begins with the poignant words, "There's still a bottle of [breast] milk in our freezer," as if to warn readers that she's of two minds. How dear, to have saved a last bottle of breast milk after weaning her last child-and yet, readers may wonder, what does that imply? To need a tangible reminder of that time when Harrison used her very body to feed her child? Four months after she'd stopped breast-feeding her youngest child, Harrison's 10-year-old son developed life-threatening asthma, just as Harrison herself had developed asthma after her own mother abandoned her to her grandparents. Harrison obsessed over her son's treatment, before turning to the one sure way she'd always known to control an unruly world: imposing starvation on herself. As her anorexia became life-threatening, she worked to accept its cause, her unresolved anger with her now-deceased mother. Ready, finally, to be rid of the burden of this anger, Harrison ordered her mother's body exhumed and cremated, so she could personally scatter her ashes. "[A]t last I was allowing her to go," Harrison concludes (although in the acknowledgments that follow, she speculates that perhaps every writer needs an elusive, "eternally empty vessel" into which "longing... can be poured," such as her mother). This brief, poetic meditation on the exorcism of family pain is sure to find appreciative readers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Harrison, the survivor of a fractured childhood and a damaging affair with her father, somewhat ameliorates her boundless psychic pain and corresponding anorexia and severe depression by writing searing memoirs, including Seeking Rapture (2003), and she has gathered an avid readership. She now continues her literary therapy by drilling to the very heart of her predicament, her long-suppressed fury at her unloving mother, a malignant rage undiminished by her mother's death. A compelling and driven writer who has also written highly imaginative novels and a biography of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Harrison has succeeded in breaking the pattern of dysfunctional mothering perpetuated by her grandmother and mother, but as she struggles with fear over her son's debilitating asthma, she realizes that she will never be well, nor her family free from anxiety on her behalf, until she finds a way to exorcise her mother's smothering spirit. As always, Harrison manages to shock and awe her readers as she renders her own private hell universal and instructive. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (July 12, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812971507
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812971507
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on June 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I began reading this book on Mother's Day, and though Kathryn Harrison's mother is long dead, and mine, too, is gone, it reminded me how powerfully our parents stay alive in us --- for better or worse.
In Harrison's case, it seems to have been for much, much worse. Her mother, pregnant at 17 and married briefly, moved into her own place when her daughter was six, leaving Harrison to be raised, with scrupulous care and scant understanding, by her grandparents. Although her mother remained nearby and saw her child on weekends, they never lived together again. She died at 42, of breast cancer.
A mother who was there, yet absent. A mother whom she adored and hated in equal measure. A mother she never really had who nonetheless occupied huge real estate in Harrison's psyche and affected her own sense of parenthood. THE MOTHER KNOT begins with Harrison thrown into a spiral of despair over two apparently unrelated events: her decision to stop breast-feeding her third child (a daughter) and her son's bout with severe asthma. The depression and eating disorders she had developed in childhood now return; she goes back to her longtime analyst; she starts taking medication and losing weight; she feels responsible for her son's illness, overcome by a black, vindictive force that at last she identifies as her mother --- or Harrison's internalized version of her.
Whew. Strong stuff --- yet for me, this sea of troubles didn't really register at first; it was too neat, too practiced. THE MOTHER KNOT struck me as: (a) something of a gyp (96 pages for $19.95? Please.) and (b) traversing confessional ground already mined by the author in her novels THICKER THAN WATER and EXPOSURE: parental abandonment, anorexia, depression, incest.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth on January 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For reasons I cannot understand, I seem to be among the minority who viewed Kathryn Harrison's "The Kiss" as a restrained and remarkable memoir. I was not side-tracked by what many apparently perceived as sensationalist writing...on the contrary, I found Harrison's account of her experiences to be a lean, intelligent, and heartfelt account of an unspeakably difficult passage...furthermore, I can say honestly that among the more compelling aspects of this piece to be her recollections of her relationship with her mother; I have been haunted ever since by those images. As such, I jumped at the opportunity to read "The Mother Knot." I must admit, when the book arrived, I was disappointed to note it's slender profile; little did I know that I would spend the night that followed in lonely sorrow, sobbing, as I processed my own relationship with my mother, who finally passed away this past September...let NO ONE DEPRIVE THIS AUTHOR HER VOICE.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on March 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Kathryn Harrison is the author of another memoir, The Kiss; a travel memoir, The Road to Santiago; a collection of essays, Seeking Rapture; and several novels including The Seal Wife, The Binding Chair, Exposure, and Thicker Than Water. In The Mother Knot, Harrison's memoir reflects on the mother-daughter relationship that consumed her life.

In her acknowledgements (which she chose to place at the end of the book rather than the beginning), Harrison writes, "Though my mother didn't prepare me for marriage or motherhood or the job of living, she did give me a muse. My love for her preceded and has outlasted the rage. Because her purpose was to elude she continues to fascinate. She provides what a writer requires, an eternally empty vessel into which endless characters and plots, and all the longing they represent, can be poured."

Not unlike myself, or many women I know, Harrison's relationship with her mother consists of a series of incongruous emotions--love and hate, pride and despair, admiration and shame, but most of all misunderstanding. From these emotions, Harrison shares with her reader the struggle to finally set herself free from a painful past so that she can move into the present and future.

Struggling with anorexia and depression, Harrison relates a childhood spent in search of her mother's approval and love... a quest that seemed to be in vain. At the age of forty-one, Harrison finally is able to come to terms with the hold her long dead mother continues to have on her. She takes positive steps to regain her life and to find a way to live peacefully with the memories of her mother.

This poignant memoir is a must read for anyone who struggles with mother-daughter relationship issues of their own.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 2, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kathryn Harrison's topic never matters much to me......I'm always eager to be transported to bliss by the way she puts words together.
"I sat on my heels at the water's pleated edge and touched the pink frills of foam." What an emotional impact she can create with so few simple words.
The premise of the memoir is not one I'd agree with, however, since it basically ignores the enormous influence genes have on our lives. I wouldn't bet that depression and/or anorexia can be "cured" by symbolically casting away an abandoning-mother demon. Rather, I'd guess the depression and anorexia are genetic demons to be dealt with over and over throughout life, and having the mother-memories of her dreams wouldn't have made the battles any easier for Kathryn Harrison.
In her Acknowledgments she addresses the irony of her abandoning- mother demon providing "what a writer requires". I loved that last paragraph the most.
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