Picks and Pans Review: Stranger in Two Worlds

updated 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/04/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jean Harris

The private school headmistress who was sent to jail in 1981 for killing Dr. Herman Tarnower, the Scarsdale Diet doctor, has written a most curious autobiography. She describes growing up in Cleveland, if not rich, then certainly privileged. She went to private schools and Smith College. Her 19-year marriage to James Harris, the father of her two sons, ended in divorce. Harris has only wonderful things to say about her husband, which makes it difficult to understand why she left him. She has even more wonderful things to say about Tarnower, who clearly was a snob, a womanizer and an all-around despicable fellow—especially after his diet book became a huge success. Did he turn Harris into a dependent pill junkie? She insists not. She did take a gun to his house on that fatal night, she writes, but she insists she was planning to commit suicide and that his death was accidental. Harris thinks her lawyer, though he failed utterly in defending her, is another wonderful man. Harris believes however that she was convicted because the doctor had rich and powerful friends. She writes, "The two most frightening things I have learned are a deep contempt for the practice of law and a deep awareness of the power of money." The picture she gives of prison life—at a facility in Bedford Hills, N.Y. that is by reputation among the least oppressive—is harrowing. She charges that the guards constantly singled her out for humiliating strip searches and put her in chains at every opportunity, once when she was suffering a heart attack. This is a strange book by an obviously confused woman. The unwritten message throughout is a scream for help: Look at me! See what a nice lady I am? I couldn't have murdered the man I love—no matter how rotten he was! I don't belong in this terrible prison! Let me out.... (Macmillan, $18.95)

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