We meet at airport. We meet in cities where we've never been before. We meet where no one will recognize us.A "man of God" is how someone described my father to me. I don 't remember who. Not my mother. I'm young enough that I take the words to mean he has magical properties and that he is good, better than other people.With his hand under my chin, my father draws my face toward his own. He touches his lips to mine. I stiffen.I am frightened by the kiss. I know it wrong, and its wrongness is what lets me know, too, that it is a secret.
Few memoirs receive the amount of prepublication hype that surrounds this slim and powerful autobiography by a writer whose lurid, psychologically vivid novels (Exposure, etc.) have portrayed sexual abuse, cruel power games and extreme, self-destructive behavior. Harrison here turns an unflinching eye on the episode in her life that has most influenced those books: a secret, sexual affair with her father that began when she was 20. Not surprisingly, the book is unremittingly novelistic: it unfolds in an impressionistic series of flashbacks and is told in the present tense in prose that is brutally spare and so emotionally numb as to suggest that recounting the affair is for Harrison is the psychological equivalent of reliving it. Abandoned by her father as a child, neglected by an emotionally remote and impetuous mother, Harrison is raised by her grandparents. She retreats at a young age into a complex interior life marked by religious fixations, bouts of anorexia and self-injury, rage at her callous mother and obsession with her absent father. A minister and amateur cameraman, her father visits Harrison after an absence of 10 years, when she is home from college on spring break. The boundary between flirtation and paternal affection is soon blurred, as her father lavishly dotes on her and, in parting, kisses her sexually on the mouth. A relationship of passionate promises, obsessive long-distance phone calls and letters then flourishes, as her father, presented here as ghoulishly predatory, relentlessly draws her into his web. Gradually consenting to his demands for sex, Harrison drops out of college and moves in with her father's new family, extricating herself from the affair only when her mother is stricken with metastatic breast cancer. Throughout the book, Harrison omits names, dates and locations, shrewdly fashioning these dark events into a kind of Old Testament nightmare in which incest is just one of a host of physical trials, from pneumonia to shingles, self-cutting and bulimia. If Harrison sacrifices objectivity in places for a mode of storytelling engineered for maximum shock value, most readers still will find this book remarkable for both the startling events it portrays and the unbridled force of the writing. (Apr.)