Fierce Attachments

image Author: Vivian Gornick

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (1987)

From the back cover:

“The story of a lifelong battle for independence, it weaves between the working-class Bronx home where Vivian Gornick grew up and her later, tempestuous walks with her aged mother through the streets of Manhattan. As the two women argue and remember the past, each wins the reader’s admiration: the caustic and clear-thinking daughter, for her tenacity in talking to her mother about the most basic issues of their lives; and the still-powerful and intuitively wise old woman, who again and again provers herself her mother’s daughter.”

Written in exposed and biting prose, Gornick captures the reader into her life on the page from childhood to adulthood. Significantly, what hit home to me was the adversarial relationship Gornick had with her mother. My mother and I aren’t very close which is why this story resonated with me.

The tale was gripping and captivating; at times, I saw right through the author and yelled at the book, “Uh, you’re just like your mother!” but this didn’t stop me from reading. The writing was top notch and the author pulled me into her world.

What I found the most compelling was how her writing reminded me of Mary Gaitskill’s realistic painting of life – no bow on it to make it look nice. The pain was both gorgeous and uncomfortable on the page. She has the ability to write about sadness in such a beautiful way – to me at least. Below an example:

“My mother’s grief was primitive and all-encompassing: it sucked the oxygen out of the air. A heavy drugged sensation filled my head and my body whenever I came back into the apartment. We, none of us–not my brother, not I, certainly not my mother–found comfort in one another. We were only exiled together, trapped in a common affliction. Loneliness of the spirit seized conscious hold of me for the first time, and I turned my face to the street, to the dreamy melancholy inner suggestiveness that had become the only relief from what I quickly perceived as a condition of loss, and of defeat.”

There are many well-written sections similar to this one in her memoir that made me stop and re-read just to hear it read aloud, to myself.

Vivian Gornick is a talent; a writer I look up to and aspire to become in my future.


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