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.
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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 SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved