True Crimes: A Family Album

In essays written over the course of more than a decade, Kathryn Harrison has created a beautifully detailed and rigorously honest family album. With tenderness and wisdom, compassion and humor, Harrison writes about the things we don’t always discuss, casting light on what lurks beneath the surface of everyday life, sifting through the artifacts of memory to find what haunts and endures.

Both serious and surprising, these essays capture the moments and impulses that shape a family. In “Keeping Vigil,” Harrison reflects on the loss of her beloved father-in-law, and how he managed to repair something her own father had broken. In “Holiday Lies,” she describes the uneasy but necessary task of lying to her children about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, withholding certain truths to protect their innocence. In “Mini-Me,” she writes about how the birth of her youngest daughter—who used to pry open a sleeping Harrison’s eyes—finally allowed her to understand her own mother’s complicated attitudes about parenting. And in “True Crime,” Harrison writes for the first time in the almost two decades since the publication of The Kiss about her affair with her father, and how she has reckoned with the girl she once was.


“In these essays, Harrison approaches her own past as a mystery—at once elusive and unshakable—and excavates its nuances with tender rigor. Her memories emerge less like artifacts and more like luminous veins of quicksilver, constantly diverging and reconnecting. Her voice is charged by a capacious intuition that feels clear-eyed and sharply etched but always generous, full of compassion for the family that raised her and the damage they did. There is difficulty in these pages, along with playfulness, wonder, and deep wisdom about how we love, how we harm, and how intertwined these forms of intimacy might be.”

—Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

“With its sharp, haunting portraits, this gorgeous and unsettling book is like the most honest family album ever. Harrison is not afraid to plumb the darkness of family life, to look at the rage, panic, and resentments entangled with love: Her reminiscences are vivid and unforgettable.”

—Katie Roiphe, author of In Praise of Messy Lives and The Morning After

“Harrison is known as a strong writer—frank, unsentimental, her tough-minded prose daring us to doubt its honesty. True Crimes is true to form, scorchingly candid but also tender: She writes about her marriage, her children, her in-laws, her mother—even her dog—with love, knowing how necessary that emotion is, and how elusive.”

—James Atlas

“Poignant, hilarious, and dramatic . . . Harrison is mesmerizing in this set of linked essays as she matches the supple clarity and vital force of her polished prose to stunning candor.”

Booklist (starred review)