Vince Passaro (review date 14 February 1993)
SOURCE: “Private Eye,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, February 14, 1993, pp. 3, 7.
[In the following positive review of Exposure, Passaro praises Harrison's prose, comparing it to the works of novelist and journalist Joan Didion.]
Kathryn Harrison, on the heels of her disturbing and elegiac first novel, Thicker Than Water has written a second, Exposure that plays off a newsworthy subject and creates an intense portrait of an artist's (and a father's) capacity for exploitation and betrayal.
The novel's damaged and unraveling heroine is Ann Rogers, daughter of a renowned photographer, Edgar Rogers, who made his fame with morbid, suggestive and visually stunning black and white pictures taken of her when she was a child and a blossoming teen. The similarities of Ann's situation to that of the children of the increasingly notorious photographer Sally Mann instantly suggest themselves: Mann takes beautiful and rather unnerving photos of her children—many of them, like Edgar's of Ann, elaborately posed recreations of actual domestic moments, often involving death-like postures and various bruises and wounds. Childhood sexuality recurs also as a motif. A great deal of controversy has arisen about these photos; Harrison's novel, aside from its considerable literary merits, contributes to that ongoing debate in tangential, dreamlike ways.
That Ann has been severely damaged by her father remains the emotional fulcrum on which the novel propels itself, although Harrison leaves room for an interpretation in which it was the man's joyless distance and brutal disregard, rather than his art, that did his daughter in. Most likely it was both. The story takes place when Ann is an adult, marginally coping with her father's suicide, which occurred when she was 19, her marriage and her career—she too is a photographer, and a partner in a successful videotaping outfit hired for weddings and such. She is also a diabetic, addicted to speed, a compulsive and very high-end shoplifter; her eyesight is going, a particular frightening side-effect of her condition, given what she does for a living, but this is not enough to get her off drugs or make her take minimal care of her health. She is falling apart at her job and letting her marriage slide into a chasm of secrecy and alienation. We observe her, through a series of third-person fragments, during the weeks leading to a major showing of her father's work in the Museum of Modern Art, a show which will mark the first time many long-suppressed photographs—the most sexually explicit ones, of Ann as a teen-ager, masturbating, making out with her boyfriend, et cetera—will be seen. The show...
(The entire section is 1122 words.)