Essayist and journalist Gornick (Fierce Attachments, 1987; The Approaching Eye, 1996) gathers under one cover 11 essays that explore the meaning of love and marriage as literary themes in the 20th century. Gornick writes in a pithy, intensely concentrated literary style that is individual, uncannily precise, and a pleasure to read. Consider her comments on Grace Paley's prose: ``These sentences are born of a concentration in the writer that runs so deep, is turned so far inward, it achieves the lucidity of the poet. . . . The material is at one with the voice speaking.'' This is true of Gornick's own prose. She has the extraordinary ability to cut to the bone of our common experience with just a few, well-chosen words. What makes her work unusual for a book of this sort is that she persuades by the power of her language--gracefully poised between objective knowledge and subjective experience--more than by discursive argument. Her governing idea is this: Love, sexual fulfillment, and marriage are now exhausted as the metaphorical expressions of success and happiness. Modern experience cannot bear out these traditional meanings. It's not that people can no longer fall in love and be happily married. But the traditional scenario of love and marriage in the age of divorce and contraception ``cannot provide insight, it can only repeat a view of things that today feels sadly tired and without the power to make one see anew.'' Gornick's subtle ear and mind illuminate works by Paley, Willa Cather, George Meredith, Kate Chopin, Jean Rhys, Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Jane Smiley, Richard Ford, Christina Stead, and Radclyffe Hall. Not all familiar names, but Gornick makes you want to read the ones you don't know and reread the ones you do. An exceptionally well-written, original, and thought-provoking set of essays.