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UNFINISHED BUSINESS by Vivian Gornick Kirkus Star


Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader

by Vivian Gornick

Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-374-28215-8
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Gornick’s (The Odd Woman and the City, 2016) ferocious but principled intelligence emanates from each of the essays in this distinctive collection.

Rereading texts, and comparing her most recent perceptions against those of the past, is the linchpin of the book, with the author revisiting such celebrated novels as D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, Colette's The Vagabond, Marguerite Duras' The Lover, and Elizabeth Bowen's The House in Paris. Gornick also explores the history and changing face of Jewish American fiction as expressions of "the other." The author reads more deeply and keenly than most, with perceptions amplified by the perspective of her 84 years. Though she was an avatar of "personal journalism" and a former staff writer for the Village Voice—a publication that “had a muckraking bent which made its writers…sound as if they were routinely holding a gun to society’s head”—here, Gornick mostly subordinates her politics to the power of literature, to the books that have always been her intimates, old friends to whom she could turn time and again. "I read ever and only to feel the power of Life with a capital L," she writes; it shows. The author believes that for those willing to relinquish treasured but outmoded interpretations, rereading over a span of decades can be a journey, sometimes unsettling, toward richer meanings of books that are touchstones of one's life. As always, Gornick reveals as much about herself as about the writers whose works she explores; particularly arresting are her essays on Lawrence and on Natalia Ginzburg. Some may feel she has a tendency to overdramatize, but none will question her intellectual honesty. It is reflected throughout, perhaps nowhere so vividly as in a vignette involving a stay in Israel, where, try as she might, Gornick could not get past the "appalling tribalism of the culture.”

Literature knows few champions as ardent and insightful—or as uncompromising—as Gornick, which is to readers’ good fortune.