The Mother Knot
by Kathryn Harrison

Random House, 2004. ISBN 1400061911.
Reviewed by Lee Ambrose
Posted on 10/18/2004

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Relationships

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. To see the tenacious grasp Harrison's mother managed to hold on her even after her death and to see the depths to which Harrison had to sink before she could move forward is to witness a transformation. To understand the struggle is to begin to work through one's own demons.

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