AN ACCIDENTAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY By Barbara Grizzuti Harrison Houghton Mifflin: 396 pp., $24.95

We are now in the age of very personal memoir. What began as shocking revelations of abuse, lunacy or coldheartedness by children of public personalities has become a form favored by the literary offspring of more private parents. Now it is journalist-travel writer-novelist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison's turn to look back and tell all. An impressionistic series of essays rather than a formal, chronological account, the book covers the author's entire life, not just her beginnings. Still, stylistically and emotionally, it begins and ends with her parents.

There is nothing in Harrison's Brooklyn childhood that can be romanticized. The author became both a foot soldier and victim of the war between her parents: " 'Tell your father,' [her mother] said, 'that I can't sleep with him. Tell him I have a cold.' I was 10 years old. I have forgotten to say how seductive she was. And how icy and how sorrowing. I told him. He beat me."

Harrison endured not just by her wits but by her passion. Her writing is marked by exquisite, sensuous imagery, by fierce judgments and witty epigrams. She also possessed the survivor's gift of moving beyond the horror of her household and finding people who saw beauty and worth in her, and who insisted she see it as well.

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