Excerpt from The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Binding Chair

or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society

by Kathryn Harrison

The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison X
The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2000, 312 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2001, 352 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

APPRENTICESHIP

The gatepost, stuccoed pink to match the villa, bore a glazed tile painted with a blue number, the same as that in the advertisement. Please inquire in person. Avenue des Fleurs, 72.

A hot day, and so bright. Sun flared off windowpanes and wrung sparks from freshly watered shrubs. One after another, applicants paused at the locked gate, considered its wrought-iron flourishes and the distinctly self-satisfied hue of the residence glimpsed through its bars. They checked the number twice, as if lost, hesitated before pushing the black button in its burnished ring of brass.

When the houseboy appeared with a ring of keys, his severely combed hair shining with petroleum jelly, they ducked in response to his bow and followed him through the silently swinging gate with their heads still lowered, squinting dizzily at the glittering crushed white quartz that lined the rose beds along the path.

"Won't you sit down?"

May received them in the sunroom. Behind her chair, glass doors offered a view of terraced back gardens, an avalanche of extravagantly bright blooms, a long, blue-tiled swimming pool that splattered its reflection over the white walls and ceiling.

Of the eleven men and women who answered her notice, four did not resist staring at May outright, and she dismissed them immediately.

Whatever the name Mrs. Arthur Cohen might suggest to someone answering an ad, May would not have been it. To begin with, wasn't Cohen a Jewish name? And there she was, unmistakably Chinese. Now who in 1927 had encountered such an intermarriage, even among the Riviera's population of gamblers and gigolos, its yachtsmen and consumptives and inexhaustible reserves of deposed, transient countesses living off pawned tiaras? In the summer months, when sun worshippers overtook the city of Nice-women walking bare-legged on the boulevards, and bare-lipped, too, tennis skirts no lower than the knee and not a smudge of lipstick, their hair bobbed, their necks brown and muscular, canine-May Cohen looked not so much out of style as otherworldly.

Despite the heat, she received her eleven candidates in traditional dress: a mandarin coat of pink silk embroidered with a pattern of cranes and fastened with red frogs, matching pink trousers, and tiny silk shoes that stuck out from under their hems like two pointed red tongues.

Her abundant and absolutely black hair was coiled in a chignon. Pulled back, it accentuated a pretty widow's peak, a forehead as pale and smooth as paper. Her eyes were black and long, each brow a calligraphic slash; her full lips were painted red. She had a narrow nose with nervous, delicate nostrils, imperious, excitable nostrils that seemed to have been formed with almost fanatical attention. But each part of May - her cuticles and wristbones and earlobes, the blue-white luminous hollow between her clavicles-inspired the same conclusion: that to assemble her had required more than the usual workaday genius of biology. At fifty, her beauty was still so extreme as to be an affront to any sensible soul. Her French, like her English, was impeccable.

Of the remaining seven applicants (those who did not disqualify themselves by staring), the first offered references from a local sanitarium. Perhaps this explained his solicitousness, his tender careful moist gaze, as if she were moribund. "Please accept my apologies," she said. "You won't do."

The second was, she decided, an idiot. "You have had - it was an accident? " he asked, and she smiled, but not kindly.

The third, a narrow, ascetic Swiss with an inexpertly sewn harelip and a carefully mended coat, looked as if she needed employment. But she wrinkled her nose with fastidious disapproval, and May rang for the houseboy to see her out.

The fourth's excitement as he glimpsed the tightly bound arch of May's right foot, his damp hands and posture of unrestrained anticipation: these presaged trouble. May uncrossed her legs, she stood and bid him a good afternoon.

Excerpted from The Binding Chair; or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society by Kathryn Harrison Copyright© 2000 by Kathryn Harrison. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year
  • More about membership!

Award Winners

  • Book Jacket: Becoming
    Becoming
    by Michelle Obama
    Voted 2019 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    BookBrowse hosted a Book Club ...
  • Book Jacket: Butterfly Yellow
    Butterfly Yellow
    by Thanhha Lai, Daniel Suarez
    Voted 2019 Best Young Adult Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    As readers, many of us hope ...
  • Book Jacket: Olive, Again
    Olive, Again
    by Elizabeth Strout
    Voted 2019 Best Fiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    It's been a big year for literary ...
  • Book Jacket: Solitary
    Solitary
    by Albert Woodfox
    Voted 2019 Best Debut Author Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

    According to statistics from ...

Book Club
Book Jacket
Evening in Paradise
by Lucia Berlin

"Berlin's new book is a marvel, filled with deeply touching stories about lives on the fringes."—NPR

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Mighty Justice
    by Dovey Johnson Roundtree & Katie McCabe

    An inspiring life story that speaks urgently to our troubled times.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Butterfly Yellow

BUTTERFLY YELLOW

Winner of the BookBrowse Award for Best Young Adult Novel, and the overall highest rated book of the year!

Enter

Wordplay

The Big Holiday Wordplay

Enter Now

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.