FIERCE ATTACHMENTS: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick


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A biography/autobiography of mother and daughter that measures out their two lives in stories and conversations that manage to be at once coarsely dramatic and intensely real. It is fascinating, despite its litany of regrets, pathos, and cheerless introspection. In both form and locale, it is as though characters from a Grace Paley story objected to their minimalist treatment and set out to fill in the rest of their lives. Gornick, author of In Search of Ali Mahmoud: An American Woman in Egypt, Essa vs in Feminism, and The Romance of American Communism, was born and raised in the Bronx, her family among the ""urban peasants"" living in tenement houses. Her father died young, leaving her mother to mourn for 30 years, a martyr to an ideal of romantic love. Gornick escaped via her intellect: books, City College, more books, graduate school at Berkeley, and finally a life as a journalist and essayist. The story is skillfully wrought, shifting effectively from past to present and playing the two voices against each other in a way that shows their perfect familiarity without losing impact on the reader. Sadly, those voices, though with undertones of affection and grace notes of warm vulgarity, sound mournful chords of bitter anger, resignation, and cynicism. Their lives (and so this book) are very evidently a product of New York City. The two women are always out walking as they talk; if they are bottled into an apartment, they explode, bounce off the walls, or simply stew. Gornick's recollections of her childhood and adolescence are the most moving part of the book, and her mother, in this phase of her life, is an unforgettable character; ""ridiculous"" was her repeated appraisal of her neighbors, they were ""undeveloped."" The roots of Gornick's activism, and of her various failures at love, are in her mother, whose lost love became self-definition; it is painful introspection. Gornick seems to have come so far to have achieved so little, still caught in the thrall of her mother's indelible example. The memoirs of Gornick's adult life are more self-conscious, the vigor dissipated by the cold eye of analysis. Nonetheless, this is a truly honest and well-written account of a life, a rare and valuable thing.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0374529965
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux