Growing up in an L.A. mansion that time forgot: Kathryn Harrison's 'On Sunset'

Growing up in an L.A. mansion that time forgot: Kathryn Harrison's 'On Sunset'

All memoirs are, by definition, collections of the past, but few interrogate it quite like Kathryn Harrison’s “On Sunset.” What sets Harrison apart is that the past was her native land, even as she was living it. Raised by a pair of deeply eccentric old-world grandparents in a sprawling house on Sunset Boulevard, Harrison existed in a childhood out of time and place, seemingly unbound from her era.
Although the book is largely set in 1960s Los Angeles, spanning the years from Harrison’s birth in 1961 to the 1971 sale of the house, there is little sense of the outward time period. Instead, Harrison and her caregivers are given over to a kind of folie à trois of condensed, collective memory. Her grandparents’ bygone worlds permeate, pervade and play concurrently with hers, like two movies projected on a wall at once.
The Sassoons were a family of tremendous wealth, albeit of the bygone, once-upon-a-time variety. Described as “the Rothschilds of the East,” the sprawling clan of Baghdadi Jews had, at one point in the 1880s, an estimated “70 percent control of the world’s opium trade.” The jig, however, was almost entirely up by the time baby Harrison came into the picture. The family was rapidly teetering into what Harrison describes as a “schizophrenic” financial collapse. Sassoon, who once spurned princes as suitors, now collects books of Blue Chip trading stamps to stave off bankruptcy. Treasured heirlooms continually disappear from the walls, even as the family sleeps on hand-finished and monogrammed bedclothes made to order from Grande Maison de Blanc and as Harrison wears satin-smocked Sunday school dresses from a store on Rodeo Drive.
Harrison is nothing if not a magnificent writer, and there is something deeply satisfying about her sentences. A kind of internal rhythm dictates, with utmost precision and nary a stray adjective. She has a knack for layering stacks of images, details and exact snapshots into place, separated by commas like beads strung into a kind of rhapsody. Each sequence is beautifully rendered, even if it doesn’t always feel like an insistent piece of a larger whole.
We recommend this book, ‘On Sunset’.
Read more about it here…

Growing up in an L.A. mansion that time forgot

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *