Life inspired by the buzzing humanity of a great city.
Gornick (Emma Goldman, 2011, etc.) takes her title from George Gissing's novel The Odd Women (1893), about a “darkly handsome, high intelligent, uncompromising” woman who scorns “what she calls the slavery of love and marriage.” Courted by a man who respects and excites her, she insists on independence, fears her own emotions and retreats from their relationship. Like Gornick, a “raging” feminist in the 1970s, Gissing’s heroine “becomes a walking embodiment of the gap between theory and practice: the place in which so many of us have found ourselves, time and again.” Regret, anxiety and nostalgia inform this finely crafted memoir, built of fragmentary reflections on friendship, love, desire and the richness of living in New York. For the author, New York is a city of melancholy, peopled by “eternal groundlings who wander these mean and marvelous streets in search of a self reflected back in the eye of the stranger.” At times, she walks more than six miles per day, daydreaming, observing and trying to “dispel afternoon depression.” She interacts with beggars and shopkeepers, overhears snatches of conversation and revels in a city that she admits to romanticizing. “If you’ve grown up in New York,” she writes, “your life is an archaeology not of structures, but of voices, also piled one on top of another, also not really replacing one another.” Gornick chronicles ephemeral relationships and thwarted love affairs and, in particular, her friendship with Leonard, a gay man who, like Gornick, has “a penchant for the negative.” They meet weekly, unfailingly, “to give each other border reports.” Her friendship with Leonard leads her to consider Henry James’ relationship with Constance Fenimore Woolson, “a woman of taste and judgment whose self-divisions mirrored his own.”
A gentle, rueful, thoughtful memoir.