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In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Vivian Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence. There have been numerous books about mother and daughter, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relations as directly or as ruthlessly. Gornick's groundbreaking book confronts what Edna O'Brien has called "the prinicpal crux of female In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Vivian Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence. There have been numerous books about mother and daughter, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relations as directly or as ruthlessly. Gornick's groundbreaking book confronts what Edna O'Brien has called "the prinicpal crux of female despair": the unacknowledged Oedipal nature of the mother-daughter bond. Born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of "urban peasants," Gornick grows up in a household dominated by her intelligent but uneducated mother's romantic depression over the early death of her husband. Next door lives Nettie, an attractive widow whose calculating sensuality appeals greatly to Vivian. These women with their opposing models of femininity continue, well into adulthood, to affect Gornick's struggle to find herself in love and in work. As Gornick walks with her aged mother through the streets of New York, arguing and remembering the past, each wins the reader's admiration: the caustic and clear-thinking daughter, for her courage and tenacity in really 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 proves herself her daughter's mother. Unsparing, deeply courageous, Fierce Attachments is one of the most remarkable documents of family feeling that has been written, a classic that helped start the memoir boom and remains one of the most moving examples of the genre.


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In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Vivian Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence. There have been numerous books about mother and daughter, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relations as directly or as ruthlessly. Gornick's groundbreaking book confronts what Edna O'Brien has called "the prinicpal crux of female In this deeply etched and haunting memoir, Vivian Gornick tells the story of her lifelong battle with her mother for independence. There have been numerous books about mother and daughter, but none has dealt with this closest of filial relations as directly or as ruthlessly. Gornick's groundbreaking book confronts what Edna O'Brien has called "the prinicpal crux of female despair": the unacknowledged Oedipal nature of the mother-daughter bond. Born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of "urban peasants," Gornick grows up in a household dominated by her intelligent but uneducated mother's romantic depression over the early death of her husband. Next door lives Nettie, an attractive widow whose calculating sensuality appeals greatly to Vivian. These women with their opposing models of femininity continue, well into adulthood, to affect Gornick's struggle to find herself in love and in work. As Gornick walks with her aged mother through the streets of New York, arguing and remembering the past, each wins the reader's admiration: the caustic and clear-thinking daughter, for her courage and tenacity in really 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 proves herself her daughter's mother. Unsparing, deeply courageous, Fierce Attachments is one of the most remarkable documents of family feeling that has been written, a classic that helped start the memoir boom and remains one of the most moving examples of the genre.

30 review for Fierce Attachments: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Conversational and caustic, Fierce Attachments brings to life the writer’s dysfunctional, complex relationship with her mother. In clear-cut prose Gornick recollects sundry episodes from her working-class upbringing in the Bronx, her graduate studies in California, and her adult life in Manhattan, jumping around in time freely and often going on tangents. She tells of a widowed neighbor whose independence captivated her as a teenager, her father’s untimely death, and the men she’s fallen in and Conversational and caustic, Fierce Attachments brings to life the writer’s dysfunctional, complex relationship with her mother. In clear-cut prose Gornick recollects sundry episodes from her working-class upbringing in the Bronx, her graduate studies in California, and her adult life in Manhattan, jumping around in time freely and often going on tangents. She tells of a widowed neighbor whose independence captivated her as a teenager, her father’s untimely death, and the men she’s fallen in and out of love with, but always she returns to reflecting on her bond with her mother, a forceful personality who often feuded with Vivian but also fought for her to earn an education, work, and experience more than she did, only to find that her daughter’s learning irreversibly put a wedge between them. The pacing is a bit rushed, but the memoir’s moving at its best and worth checking out.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ines

    Powerful, violent and extreme......the narrative presented here is really very strong, it enters you and attaches itself to you, it is then difficult to get it out of your thoughts. Gornick’s writing is bewitching and seductive, but at the same time, pages by pages, everything became poisonous... This period was perhaps not suitable for me in front of books like these, where it is not really understood if everything is a reality of life, lived by the author or fiction passed off as reality... The Powerful, violent and extreme......the narrative presented here is really very strong, it enters you and attaches itself to you, it is then difficult to get it out of your thoughts. Gornick’s writing is bewitching and seductive, but at the same time, pages by pages, everything became poisonous... This period was perhaps not suitable for me in front of books like these, where it is not really understood if everything is a reality of life, lived by the author or fiction passed off as reality... The thing stinks Potente,violento estremo......la narrazione qui presentata è veramente molto forte, ti entra dentro e ti si attacca addosso, si fa poi fatica a farla uscire dai propri pensieri. La scrittura della Gornick è ammaliante e seducente, ma allo stesso tempo, nello scorrere delle pagine, il tutto si è fatto velenoso... Periodo forse non adatto per me di fronte a libri come questi, dove non si capisce effettivamente se tutto sia realtà di vita vissuta dall'autrice o finzione spacciata per realtà... la cosa puzza

  3. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I don’t usually read memoirs, but decided to read this one after enjoying Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (which is more than a memoir). In one way, this book is a precursor to the latter book, as it also takes us on walks and talks Gornick has with her mother. In another way, this is not like the later book (which I read first) at all in that it is much more (appropriately) claustrophobic, dealing with Gornick’s struggles to differentiate herself from her mother; to find the part I don’t usually read memoirs, but decided to read this one after enjoying Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (which is more than a memoir). In one way, this book is a precursor to the latter book, as it also takes us on walks and talks Gornick has with her mother. In another way, this is not like the later book (which I read first) at all in that it is much more (appropriately) claustrophobic, dealing with Gornick’s struggles to differentiate herself from her mother; to find the part where she begins and ends, as she says, and is only herself. She does a great job making this understandable to the reader, especially the single-mindedness of her instruction to me in hundreds of ways, over thousands of days, that love was the most important thing in a woman’s life (and that any marriage not like her own was not a good one). Gornick’s struggle for autonomy is also her struggle to become a writer, to confront her fear of expanding the small rectangle inside of her--her metaphor for where thought clarifies and language grows and response is made intelligent... One day, in the Met, looking at Emil Nolde’s watercolors of flowers, paintings she’s viewed many times before, Gornick has an epiphany: I see the burning quality of Nolde’s intention, the serious patience with which the flowers absorb him, the clear, stubborn concentration of the artist on his subject. I see it. And I think, it’s the concentration that gives the work its power. The space inside me enlarges. After reading The Odd Woman and the City, I wondered why Gornick didn’t mention her Jewish descent. This book gave me a possible answer when Gornick’s mother tries to coerce her into attending a remembrance of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising: I shake my head no. “Being Jewish can‘t help me anymore,” I tell her. Another quote I liked: When describing the building they lived in whose inhabitants were all Jewish except for two families (Irish and Russian), and the superintendent (Polish) and his wife, Gornick ruminates on the quietness of these minorities, as opposed to the voluble majority: That’s the main thing, I guess, about being a few among the many: it silences you.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    On and off my Mom and I had a difficult relationship. What daughter doesn’t?! For this reason I was curious to read about the author's relationship with her mother. This is the central theme of the book. Then I read that there was a bit of a controversy when the author stated that parts were fictional. This surprised me. The author is a fellow at Radcliffe, so I figured the book ought to be well written.... Could I spot what could have been fiction rather than fact? To this I can only respond tha On and off my Mom and I had a difficult relationship. What daughter doesn’t?! For this reason I was curious to read about the author's relationship with her mother. This is the central theme of the book. Then I read that there was a bit of a controversy when the author stated that parts were fictional. This surprised me. The author is a fellow at Radcliffe, so I figured the book ought to be well written.... Could I spot what could have been fiction rather than fact? To this I can only respond that I often found myself asking, "How in the world did the author remember that?!" Then there is the question of whether I liked the writing. For me the language was half of the time clever rather than clear. Too academic, too intellectual, too philosophical. If you know what you want to say, I prefer it be said as simply and clearly as possible. In my view the author all too often saw the source of a problem as being sexual. This just didn’t occur to me! I found other explanations. In the book I felt there were many opinionated statements about others - the author's neighbors, friends, boyfriends and her mother. While Vivian Gornick may be a fellow at Radcliffe, I haven't read that she has a degree in psychology! I cannot say that her stated conclusions are wrong, but I often came up with other feasible explanations! Rather than empathy or understanding I all too often felt I was listening to an argument where I could not judge the validity of the statements being made. The audiobook narration by Jill Fox was clear, but nothing special. When dramatic statements occurred she did get it right. I am glad the book was short and am happy that at Audible you can return those audiobooks you dislike. I will be returning mine.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    Gornick’s truths blaze off the page, her portraits of others transfix, her sentences and rhythms delight. What she remembers, she says, of growing up in a Jewish tenement in the Bronx, is a building full of women: "Shrewd, volatile, unlettered, they performed on a Dreiserian scale. There would be years of apparent calm, then suddenly an outbreak of panic and wildness: two or three lives scarred (perhaps ruined), and the turmoil would subside. Once again: sullen quiet, erotic torpor, the ordinarin Gornick’s truths blaze off the page, her portraits of others transfix, her sentences and rhythms delight. What she remembers, she says, of growing up in a Jewish tenement in the Bronx, is a building full of women: "Shrewd, volatile, unlettered, they performed on a Dreiserian scale. There would be years of apparent calm, then suddenly an outbreak of panic and wildness: two or three lives scarred (perhaps ruined), and the turmoil would subside. Once again: sullen quiet, erotic torpor, the ordinariness of daily denial. And I—the girl growing up in their midst, being made in their image—I absorbed them as I would chloroform on a cloth laid against my face." What a metaphor! It’s stunning, and resonates throughout the book. Gornick's memoir is her struggle for consciousness.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    I thought that I would like this book more than I did. Perhaps that's because I loved The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir and expected it to be more of the same, which is unfair. The Odd Woman is a book about a lot of people and one place, New York City. In The Odd Woman Gornick is very thoughtful about herself, her relationship to her mother and about many other people and topics. Her thoughts are wide-ranging. On the other hand, Fierce Attachments is a rather claustrophobic book and not a mem I thought that I would like this book more than I did. Perhaps that's because I loved The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir and expected it to be more of the same, which is unfair. The Odd Woman is a book about a lot of people and one place, New York City. In The Odd Woman Gornick is very thoughtful about herself, her relationship to her mother and about many other people and topics. Her thoughts are wide-ranging. On the other hand, Fierce Attachments is a rather claustrophobic book and not a memoir in the traditional sense. It is more of an internal dialogue; Gornick working out her feelings about her "fierce attachments" mostly to her mother, to men, and to another important woman from her childhood. She circles around and around through these relationships throughout the book and explores how these relationships impacted her ability to think and to work. I appreciated her ability to write very candidly, vividly and with great insight about herself and her relationships. It felt like Gornick was taking us along with her on her journey as she worked out her thoughts and feelings, gaining deeper and deeper insight. Most of the time, I enjoyed this journey; sometimes it felt a bit repetitious and I wanted to get out of her head. Still, Gornick is an incredible wordsmith and writer.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Keleigh

    Any writing carries the personal thumbprint of its author; but none more forthrightly and self-consciously than the memoir. From the first pages of Gornick’s work, I was aware that I was being sucked into one person’s filtered perspective of reality, and I gladly surrendered based on an immediate sense of trust. This trust was borne, I think, of her no-holds-barred, but nonetheless discerning tone. There was no shock value in her narrative. Rather, she holds a concentrated and rhythmic conversat Any writing carries the personal thumbprint of its author; but none more forthrightly and self-consciously than the memoir. From the first pages of Gornick’s work, I was aware that I was being sucked into one person’s filtered perspective of reality, and I gladly surrendered based on an immediate sense of trust. This trust was borne, I think, of her no-holds-barred, but nonetheless discerning tone. There was no shock value in her narrative. Rather, she holds a concentrated and rhythmic conversation with the reader, lifting the curtain on her own consciousness as high, it seems, as she is able. I got the sense that Gornick’s particular M.O. for dealing with feelings is to process them intellectually. When that rectangular space inside her “expands gloriously” (103), she is safe and free–no one can touch her–because she’s “thinking.” Not feeling. Yet this ability to detach is also what drives her memoir so beautifully and convincingly toward wholeness. As she puts it, “Out of such moments of detachment comes the narrative tale we tell of our lives” (60). By positioning herself in a present-tense narrative looking back, she is able to hold up an incandescent mirror of the soul’s truth; a faithful rendering of the story that, as she can see from her creative distance, is as alive in its storyness as it is in the flesh. Perhaps more so, since retrospectively she can allow herself to feel the feelings she conditioned herself, as a matter of survival, to suppress in the moment of experience. This writerly detachment is what can produce such straightforward and self-aware confessions as “I must have been excited. Certainly I was repelled” (78), in the section about sleeping with her mother after her father’s death. Gornick finds intellectual conversation “immensely erotic” (106), and this is abundantly clear in the shape and rhythm of her sentences. She builds a palpable momentum in scenes like the dinner reminiscing with Dorothy Levinson (80-86), which rises to a tension-buzzing crescendo, and the descriptions of bike-riding with Marilyn (94) on free-wheeling spring days. I personally loved every scene with Nettie, a character she captured so well in her sensuality and eroticized rage that I found myself catching my breath every time her name was mentioned. The true crux of the story, for me, was Gornick’s realization, however cliche it has become, that she is, in fact, her mother. Her story is as relevant for its psychological and spiritual depth as it is for its literary strength. She describes her mother early in the book as “warm and sarcastic, hysterical and generous, ironic and judgmental, and, occasionally, what she thought of as affectionate: that rough, bullying style she assumed when overcome with the tenderness she most feared” (11). Gornick could just as easily be writing about herself, and on some level, she understands this. It is a fundamental truth of human nature that we judge others based on what we fear within ourselves. Gornick articulates this perfectly in the triadic love equation between herself, her mother and Nettie: “It was a given that the more uncertain we were, the more self-righteous we would become. It was necessary for each of us to feel special, different, destined for a superior end. Divided against ourselves, we withheld sympathy from one another. Secretly, each of us identified a collection of undesirable traits in the others from which she separated herself, as though disassociation equaled deliverance …But judgment did not bring amelioration” (114). The clarity with which Gornick observes her mother–and everyone in her experience–is wrought through recognition. She details the highs and lows of her romantic life not for the seductive glamour or humor of it all, but to illustrate the fact that she cannot escape her mother (or her father); like all of us, her psyche will keep seeking out reflections to recreate different versions of the same formative trauma in order to heal. When she writes of her lover Joe that “We thought because we were always talking we were connecting” (167), she may as well be talking about she and her mother, walking their rounds of the city and arguing on heated summer nights. It is through feeling that we truly heal. Not through venting and blaming, as Gornick’s mother demonstrated by giving herself over wholeheartedly to the victim trance; but through owning every reflection in one’s life, thereby facing the fear of connection that drives so many people’s routine avoidance. By training a clear and discerning lens on her own life, particularly the ways in which she was socialized, sexualized, and disconnected, Gornick is able to at least acknowledge when she herself is getting mired in “victim.” In the end, though it may not look like a happy resolution, Gornick has achieved a level of wholeness that, perhaps ironically, looks like detachment: “A degree of distance has been permanently achieved. I glimpse the joys of detachment. This little bit of space provides me with the intermittent but useful excitement that comes of believing I begin and end with myself” (200). This final bit of wisdom is indispensable. By owning up to the reflection of herself in her mother–however painful it may be to offer the love and acceptance she didn’t receive–Gornick does indeed begin and end with herself.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Monisha

    If only I could ever bring myself to develop half as many insights on my life as the author's, I would consider myself blessed. Vivian Gornick proves that ideas hold a writing together and that every other skill is secondary to a good work. Each of her descriptions of places, habits, relationships, people could not have been more complete and beautiful. I could see her childhood and all characters in it unfold themselves in front of me and I am aghast that the memories of a girl born in Bronx in If only I could ever bring myself to develop half as many insights on my life as the author's, I would consider myself blessed. Vivian Gornick proves that ideas hold a writing together and that every other skill is secondary to a good work. Each of her descriptions of places, habits, relationships, people could not have been more complete and beautiful. I could see her childhood and all characters in it unfold themselves in front of me and I am aghast that the memories of a girl born in Bronx in the fifties could resemble so much of my own. How patriarchy and middle classism unite societies all around the world in common rituals and experiences is unbelievable. Her writing runs crystal clear as she unfolds her individuality, her feminist ideals and her passion to write as the defining perspectives of her life that always won over her attachments with men, her struggle with loneliness and most importantly, over the conformist ideals of her mother which were imprinted in her passive psyche and of which she was often made aware of, by her mother. Her mother's wisdom as an intelligent, dextrous Jewish housewife and her strong wit and innocently seductive ways to live a good and practical life are contrasted with her central belief in love which to her is the primary object of any woman's life. Not only does her belief in love lands her into an unrecoverable depression after the death of her husband but it also generates a conflict within her ambitious daughter, our author all her life, which she has brazenly portrayed in the book along with her other vulnerabilities. There are other characters, whose ways of living and thoughts & habits impacted that of the author by either enriching or vilifiying her own experiences (for instance, Nelli's impact on her sexual experiences) and its an unrivalled, profound experience to percieve that connect from the eyes of the author who doesn't seem to have missed a single emotion or expression from the faces of her knowns. "Darling, what a rich inner life you have" as Joy (her lover) once remarks to the author was my constant feeling throughout the reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Zenmoon

    Vivien Gornick is a memoirist of dazzling skill. She is among those wonderful writers who, in writing about her own life, cause you to connect with the kaleidoscopic emotions of your own. She is what all good publishers of memoir are aching to find, the kind of writer I wish I source more of. Written before the memoir boom, this book is a seminal example of the genre, a book that readers of all persuasions will adore, and students of life writing will be personally and academically enriched by r Vivien Gornick is a memoirist of dazzling skill. She is among those wonderful writers who, in writing about her own life, cause you to connect with the kaleidoscopic emotions of your own. She is what all good publishers of memoir are aching to find, the kind of writer I wish I source more of. Written before the memoir boom, this book is a seminal example of the genre, a book that readers of all persuasions will adore, and students of life writing will be personally and academically enriched by reading. In this book, Gornick narrates the series of walks she takes through the streets of New York with her eighty-year old mother. Doing so allows her to reflect upon and detail her past. That sounds like a bland set-up, but in actual fact gives way to a superbly crafted narrative framework that allows Gornick to unravel the complexities and contradictions of the mother-daughter relationship – and what she does with it is riveting. The juxtapositioning of time periods allows her to venture back and forth, contextualising her present as conditioned by her past. Only ten pages in and I am able to form the most cogent of pictures of character - especially her mother’s - that I’ve encountered this side of a thousand Tuesdays. Gornick’s enmeshment with her mother is, at times, almost asphyxiating to read. Of her she writes: ‘My skin crawled with her. She was everywhere, all over me, inside and out. Her influence clung, membrane-like, to my nostrils, my eyelids, my open mouth. I drew her into me with every breath I took. I drowsed in her etherizing atmosphere, could not escape the rich and claustrophobic character of her presence, her being, her suffocating suffering femaleness.’ (80) Gornick’s rendering of the death of her father, is set against the spectacular dramatization of it by her mother: ‘Mourning Papa became her profession, her identity, her persona.’ (62/3) As far as companion characters go, the delicate observations of Nettie (a compadre of her mother’s) are superb and novelistic in their attention to detail. We experience Nettie, through the retrospective eyes of Gornick as child, as a pivotal character: a confused and needy neighbour, a young widow, who infiltrates the household – astounding in her ineptitude as a young mother, naïve and childlike to the younger Gornick, yet paradoxically also a provocative temptress , even towards the local priest (a union which Gornick duly witnesses, stimulating her early sexual awareness). These are the complexities of life rendered to the page that Gornick excels at. All of this serves to backdrop Gornick’s thoughtful searching of her deepest nature. It is contrasted against the people who populated her childhood in the Bronx (discussed on the daily walks), and her series of claustrophobic relationships. Taken together, these elements powerfully display the cavernous depths of her internal search. Her portrayals of self and others are exquisitely nuanced by way of elegant prose. This book heaves and breathes with the weight of Gornick’s articulation of the significant moments of her life. There wasn’t one moment where I felt that it was overwritten, or self-indulgent, and throughout, I was always acutely aware of Gornick’s seeming urgency to accurately convey the formative relationships of her history. The rigor with which she exposes and analyses her own, often unflattering, elements of selfhood is unfaltering. Her humanity presses in on you, evoking those dormant, primal aspects of your own. I was fortunate enough to discover Gornick by way of a University study of Creative Nonfiction, and I am ecstatic that I did for I consider her a fine, fine writer. She is also the author of what I believe to be a bordering on brilliant essay, which looks at a particularly affecting moment in Gornick’s career as an academic, one in which she painfully tries to fit into a tight-knit University in a remote community. The essay, 'At the University: Little Murders of the Soul' can be found in Roorbach's edited collection, Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: The Art of Truth. Read her. You won't be sorry.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Garden

    Oh god, I want to write this book now--this book in its version of my mother, that is. I can't imagine that not being the response of anyone who'd read this--I want everyone with a mother to read this, and then see how it makes you want to write it, too. The mother-daughter relationship is just completely endlessly fascinating, it's got all the little kinks and knots and blind spots packed into it in such twisted, heartstopping, gasp-inducing, indignant tender grateful shocks . . . my sister and Oh god, I want to write this book now--this book in its version of my mother, that is. I can't imagine that not being the response of anyone who'd read this--I want everyone with a mother to read this, and then see how it makes you want to write it, too. The mother-daughter relationship is just completely endlessly fascinating, it's got all the little kinks and knots and blind spots packed into it in such twisted, heartstopping, gasp-inducing, indignant tender grateful shocks . . . my sister and I can analyze ourselves and our mother for ages, there is always news. I think about it all the time, how who she is makes me who I am, trying to figure out who I am, trying to stop trying to figure out who she is . . . I just completely adore it, digging into the weird defensive little crannies, the fear of knowledge, the need for it, the anger when our reflections compete, the way the heart just melts and crumbles when the reflections gain understanding from one another, it's satisfying to me like picking a scab. A scab forever. Gornick takes a few too many liberties for my taste, but the book is several ages old now in terms of what we expect from our memoirists--back in 1987 it was okay to "reproduce" whole conversations as though you remembered them verbatim, I think. Now it comes off as aggressive toward the subject of the memoir, or at least when the result of said reproduced conversations is basically the handing of the ass to one's mother. I don't not sympathize with the desire to hand the ass--God knows as the daughter you are ever the underling and the spirit of war will ever liven your breast--but it's a little mean to leave it for publication. It's not gruesome, but really she does enjoy a little too well the creating of her self's past articulations into graceful, muted swans of reason and detachment while the mother steams and hustles like a melancholic troll. But otherwise essentially perfect. So good, so good.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stacy LeVine

    WHERE HAS THIS BOOK BEEN ALL MY LIFE?! Vivian Gornick, Our Jewish Patron Saint of Nonfiction, I salute you.

  12. 4 out of 5

    El

    The first Gornick I recall reading was just recently. It was her essay "Letters from Greenwich Village" in The Best American Essays 2014 ed by John Jeremiah Sullivan. The essay was originally published in The Paris Review, so, like, that's a pretty big deal. The first line of that essay: "For nearly twenty years now, Leonard and I have met once a week for a walk, dinner, and a movie, either in his neighborhood or mine." She goes on to write about their ongoing friendship and it's just a really g The first Gornick I recall reading was just recently. It was her essay "Letters from Greenwich Village" in The Best American Essays 2014 ed by John Jeremiah Sullivan. The essay was originally published in The Paris Review, so, like, that's a pretty big deal. The first line of that essay: "For nearly twenty years now, Leonard and I have met once a week for a walk, dinner, and a movie, either in his neighborhood or mine." She goes on to write about their ongoing friendship and it's just a really good essay, one I do recommend. And then I went on to read The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative because that's important information for me to have when I'm working on my own writing. This all led me, finally, to this, Gornick's memoir about her relationship with her mother. It was a somewhat confusing, tenuous, and fraught relationship, not entirely healthy, in fact, but then we all have a bit of an unhealthy relationship with our mothers at some point or in some way. She starts out this memoir with "I'm eight years old" (p3) which tells us she's beginning to tell her story in her childhood, but she actually jumps around in time to almost mirror her childhood experiences with her adult experiences with her mother. I did not expect this since the person who suggested I read this to me is one of those hardcore authors who believes very strongly in chronology, and stories should be told from beginning to end. While the cover of the book features a lovely picture of Gornick and her mother, the memoir is not just about their relationship. Perhaps because of the issues that arose for Gornick in that relationship, she also had complexities with other people in her life - the woman across the hall in the apartment building where she grew up, lovers when she's an older woman. She always comes back to her mother, they share experiences similar to the ones she had with Leonard in her essay, "Letters from Greenwich Village" - a lot of walking, some talking, some confusion in their discussions, perhaps hurt feelings. She shows the reader a very intimate part of herself which is that she, Vivian, is not always that great a daughter either.But she doesn't get it. She doesn't know I'm being ironic. Nor does she know she's wiping me out. She doesn't know I take her anxiety personally, feel annihilated by her depression. How can she know this? She doesn't even know I'm there. Were I to tell her that it's death to me, her not knowing I'm there, she would stare at me out of her eyes crowding up with puzzled desolation, this young girl of seventy-seven, and she would cry angrily, 'You don't understand! You have never understood!' (p104)We never understand each other, daughters and mothers. It's all so very complicated and awful and amazing and strange. The memoir really started to come together for me the older Gornick became. Her relationships with lovers was infinitely more interesting to me, primarily because she was an older woman still trying to find her own freedom after breaking free, essentially, from her mother. It's a difficult road sometimes, trying to be ones own woman. And it too is complicated and messy at times. I felt Gornick nailed that ickiness really well. Not only was she trying to be her own woman, but she was also trying to find her way as an artist, a writer, and I love the shit out of some of that kind of stuff - very Patti Smith. I feel I have started on the path to understanding Gornick pretty well as a writer at this stage. Starting with an essay is always a good way to find a new-to-you author, to get your proverbial feet wet. From there, the craft book showed me what she finds important in personal narratives, but it was her memoir where I really got the full scope of her humanity. My mentor this semester said on more than one occasion that essays/personal narratives are all about dishing on someone. Sometimes we dish on ourselves because, let's be real, no one is perfect. Even if you're writing about the difficulties of growing up with your mother, and having a somewhat unhealthy (too attached) relationship, the narrator has a role in that as well. Gornick dishes on herself as well. She is not perfect. She is unsavory characteristics, she is not always patient with her aging mother. She is not always patient with herself, either.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Janelle

    Vivian Gornick Fierce Attachments,Simon and Schuster publishing, New York, 1987 If you happen to have a love/ hate relationship with your mother, this book may have you thinking you wrote it yourself. The mother-daughter relationship described throughout this memoir takes a journey through time tested by everyday life and love. The author portrays her mother so well you feel as if you have to of known someone just like her. She is animated, fiery, passionate, opinionated, and a strong willed w Vivian Gornick Fierce Attachments,Simon and Schuster publishing, New York, 1987 If you happen to have a love/ hate relationship with your mother, this book may have you thinking you wrote it yourself. The mother-daughter relationship described throughout this memoir takes a journey through time tested by everyday life and love. The author portrays her mother so well you feel as if you have to of known someone just like her. She is animated, fiery, passionate, opinionated, and a strong willed woman. The memoir describes the mother and daughter’s life together by jumping back and forth from the present to past. Woven together gracefully, each detailed emotionally ridden story from the past is laced through the author’s present life by way of daily encounters with her mother. You can clearly see, and the author is not hestitant to admit, that her mother’s own qualities which she has observed, admired, and even hated her whole life are deeply rooted within herself. The struggle between the grown daughter finding her own identity and separating from her mother’s is illustrated throughout the entire memoir. The story ranges from the time period when the young daughter was living with her Jewish family in an old apartment in the ‘50’s all the way to her living a successful life in the 80’s all the while still maintaining a close relationship with her mother, whether they both liked it or not. I really admired the way the story was crafted in the sense that the timeline was not completely linear yet the reader still gets a clear and concise understanding at where the story stands. It gave the author a chance to show how her relationship with her mother developed (and sometimes unraveled) while illustrating how it pertains to their present life. There is a feminist underlying tone throughout the memoir while the author focuses on the feelings and experiences of the woman around her while not so much the men. The author is most definitely leading an independent life as a woman because of her mother’s values and beliefs. The way the author successfully compiled the memoir really made this book a great read that never left you feeling like it was going now where. True love, devotion and detest that comes with a mother and daughter relationship is apparent throughout the entire text. Of course they were not perfect but that is in fact what makes them perfect. The way they snip at one another, ride each other’s nerves and yet always find time to spend together is what makes the relationship so honest and true.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    "I stare at her retreating back. That dismissiveness of hers: it will be the last thing to go. In fact, it will never go. It is the emblem of her speech, the idiom of her being, that which establishes her in her own eyes. The dismissal of others is to her the struggle to rise from the beasts, to make distinctions, to know the right and the wrong of a thing, to not think it unimportant, ever, that the point be made. Suddenly her life presses on my heart." There's some good stuff going on here. Ran "I stare at her retreating back. That dismissiveness of hers: it will be the last thing to go. In fact, it will never go. It is the emblem of her speech, the idiom of her being, that which establishes her in her own eyes. The dismissal of others is to her the struggle to rise from the beasts, to make distinctions, to know the right and the wrong of a thing, to not think it unimportant, ever, that the point be made. Suddenly her life presses on my heart." There's some good stuff going on here. Ranked number one by the New York Times as the best memoir of the past 50 years. I can see why.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    So beautifully done. This is how you write about your mother and this is how you write a memoir. She weaves in big ideas and deep reflections into her relationship with her mother--but it's not just that relationship that she focuses on. There is a foil to her mother too--a loose woman who chose sex as opposed to virtue. The other tension that Gornick explores masterfully is her own tension between work and love. There is so much in here to ponder.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kirsti

    Brilliant, enraged, astonishingly self-absorbed artist reflects on her lousy childhood, her flawed mother, her inadequate lovers, and her wonderful city. Although the author seems to be a colossal jerk, and I would not want to have coffee with her, the book is very intelligent and powerful--especially when she discusses her next-door neighbor and the neighbor's son. I finished it in one sitting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Scathingly honest. What a reading experience! Wow! Wow! Wow!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kay (aka) Miss Bates

    Giving GR "stars" to Gornick is stupid; she defies "ratings". Hers is a formidable voice, a voice for the solitary odd women everywhere. I hated and loved her first memoir and I wrote about it on my blog: https://missbatesreadsromance.com/202... No ARC was provided for the eliciting of my thoughts. I bought the memoir with my own spinster funds. Giving GR "stars" to Gornick is stupid; she defies "ratings". Hers is a formidable voice, a voice for the solitary odd women everywhere. I hated and loved her first memoir and I wrote about it on my blog: https://missbatesreadsromance.com/202... No ARC was provided for the eliciting of my thoughts. I bought the memoir with my own spinster funds.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jane Hoppe

    Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick Before reading Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments, I felt frustrated by frozen memories. Why can’t I remember conversations, let alone themes, from my childhood and teen years? Why can I not paint a picture of anyone, myself included? Why does no one appear whole? After reading Gornick’s memoir, I sense a thawing. Memories aren’t exactly gushing yet, but they’re trickling. Gornick weaves anecdotes to show primarily influences of her mother and a neighbor, Nett Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick Before reading Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachments, I felt frustrated by frozen memories. Why can’t I remember conversations, let alone themes, from my childhood and teen years? Why can I not paint a picture of anyone, myself included? Why does no one appear whole? After reading Gornick’s memoir, I sense a thawing. Memories aren’t exactly gushing yet, but they’re trickling. Gornick weaves anecdotes to show primarily influences of her mother and a neighbor, Nettie. Other influences, other relationships appear, but Gornick’s focus seems to be womanhood and what she learned of it through Mama and Nettie. The memoir tells stories from the author’s childhood as well as adulthood. The reader enters into Gornick’s relationship with her mother through observations and conversations. Stories are infused with lively descriptions and dialogue and the author’s rear-view-mirror perspectives. I cannot say my actual childhood experiences mirrored Gornick’s in any way, but the ice picks chipping away at my blocked childhood are the universal questions this memoir explores. All adults can ask Fierce Attachments’ questions of their own childhoods. What was openly praised? What was hush-hush? What was openly criticized? What unspoken alliances formed? What did you really desire—the deep-down reasons for actions? How did men relate to women, and women to men? What subliminal messages resulted? How did you assimilate these ideas? How did you question them, rebel against them? To whatever degree readers examine their lives because of this memoir, they will benefit.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    Gornick’s memoir, Fierce Attachments, explores the complicated and painful life experiences that she had as a child growing up with her widowed mother. Gornick’s life was a difficult one, filled with competition from her mother, lack of acceptance, and a general sense of ostracism from the women who surrounded her. Gornick’s mother, a judgmental and hardworking woman, tried her best to provide for her children; however, her rigidity towards her daughter’s individuality never appeared to be acce Gornick’s memoir, Fierce Attachments, explores the complicated and painful life experiences that she had as a child growing up with her widowed mother. Gornick’s life was a difficult one, filled with competition from her mother, lack of acceptance, and a general sense of ostracism from the women who surrounded her. Gornick’s mother, a judgmental and hardworking woman, tried her best to provide for her children; however, her rigidity towards her daughter’s individuality never appeared to be acceptable. The memoir is written without chapters and Gornick weaves together her childhood experiences with her experiences as a grown woman. She also brings her mother to the reader’s attention by beginning discussions with her mother while on walks through New York City. Eventually, the two women are able to become closer and even reconcile in a way. This acceptance proves to be a fulfilling end to the story.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Don Incognito

    I have nothing to say about the quality of writing in this book, but I found the story very unpleasant, for some reason--probably the chilliness of Vivian Gornick's "marriage." I had to read it in a creative writing course as an example of a memoir, and I disliked it so intensely that after the semester, I disposed of it. Until then, I didn't realize how hard laminated covers made it for trade paperbacks to burn. From the overall tone of the book, Gornick comes off as the coldest Marxist since B I have nothing to say about the quality of writing in this book, but I found the story very unpleasant, for some reason--probably the chilliness of Vivian Gornick's "marriage." I had to read it in a creative writing course as an example of a memoir, and I disliked it so intensely that after the semester, I disposed of it. Until then, I didn't realize how hard laminated covers made it for trade paperbacks to burn. From the overall tone of the book, Gornick comes off as the coldest Marxist since Bertolt Brecht.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    I really really REALLY hated this book. I only made myself finish it so that I could give it an honest review in good conscience. It was filled with completely self-centered, horrible people who had no concept of love or grace or even just basic good thoughts toward fellow human beings. And they weren't fictional characters either. I guess if there was any redeeming quality, it helped open my eyes to the fact that people like this exist in the world. But I do hope I (and my children) never meet I really really REALLY hated this book. I only made myself finish it so that I could give it an honest review in good conscience. It was filled with completely self-centered, horrible people who had no concept of love or grace or even just basic good thoughts toward fellow human beings. And they weren't fictional characters either. I guess if there was any redeeming quality, it helped open my eyes to the fact that people like this exist in the world. But I do hope I (and my children) never meet them.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Patsylina

    Excellent memoir. Vivian has recreated her life, her environment , the subtleties of jewish mother-daughter love-hatred relationship. Sensitive, intelligent, marvelously written, she builds the scenario so perfectly enabling us, the readers to analyze, laugh, suffer and reflect on our own relationships. A wonderful time spent together. Vivian, her mother, her neighbors and me.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Zach

    One of those books you get led to, that you can't find on your own. That makes you stop pretty regularly to say, out loud, "now THIS is a BOOK!" What's it about, they wanna know. I can't tell you. Just read it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    "The knowledge that work is patient, sustained labor -- no more, no less -- was not a wisdom he had as yet taken in very much better than I had."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Camille Cusumano

    I’m a fierce admirer of Vivian Gornick’s writing. Her prose is shapely and radiant, to use her own words. Yet the labor that must go into that art is completely offstage. I find the meticulously clean space around each and every word on the pages of her books resounds with meaning, all of which the author skillfully, deliberately chooses to leave unsaid but not inaccessible. This modus operandi alone makes her a writer’s writer. Such use of understatement does not a mainstream readership capture I’m a fierce admirer of Vivian Gornick’s writing. Her prose is shapely and radiant, to use her own words. Yet the labor that must go into that art is completely offstage. I find the meticulously clean space around each and every word on the pages of her books resounds with meaning, all of which the author skillfully, deliberately chooses to leave unsaid but not inaccessible. This modus operandi alone makes her a writer’s writer. Such use of understatement does not a mainstream readership capture. Fierce Attachments, in its spare 203 pages, is much more than a run-of-the-mill mother-daughter memoir. I have read and loved three other works by Gornick and decided to put off the memoir. I expected that having come from a very large family, I would have nothing to learn from—and perhaps too much to envy about—a daughter’s fierce attachment to her mother. Wrong on both concerns. No, there is nothing to envy about the familial situation or story. And I might have known that Gornick would not dish up an ounce of treacle. Instead of a sentimental portrait, she gives us a taut, complex, layered narrative with plenty of compelling backstory. She gives us the taste of iron in the mouth and shows us how words can make energy evaporate. What a deft weave as she sallies back and forth between the past and walks with Mama along streets of Manhattan. It’s not necessary to have grown up in the east, as I did (in a big NJ Italian family) but if you did, you might be better attuned to the culture, the humor, at times dark, the Bronx lingua franca and the Yiddish “dialect.” Gornick is admirably restrained with the last, although she no doubt grew up hearing Yiddish a lot in her mostly Jewish tenement—and during her visits to the Catskills, aka Borscht Belt. Her work is brave and ruthlessly self-revelatory. The careful reader comes away moved and inspired by Gornick’s style and substance. It is not easy to legibly, honestly craft the love-hate relationship many, if not most, of us have with one or the other parent. Early on, after describing some of her mother’s disturbing behaviors, Gornick tells us flat out “How could I not be devoted to her devotion?” This is the relationship you are about to bear witness to in this book. That one line stirred the depth of my own ambivalent relationship with my father. I hungrily devoured every detail of Gornick’s “sentimental education” by the “mother and the whore” (my shorthand, not Gornick’s) in that Bronx tenement. Nothing short of a tour de force, or coup de grace, is the way in which Gornick signals us right on page 2, that although there were men in her family and early life, they fall away in her memory. They are silhouettes or shadowy figures in this book. Her steely-opinionated mother and the under-loved, over-sexed neighbor claim the forefront of the maturing girl’s mental landscape. The male characters call to mind the artistry of Matisse’s famous cutouts. There is nothing “undeveloped” about Gornick’s writing—to borrow one of her mother’s hot-button words. This leads me to what I learned from Fierce Attachments. It has much more to do with Gornick the writer than Gornick the daughter. In the following passage, which comes on page 175 near the end of the book, I feel a surge of exaltation. Yes! This narrator triumphs and thrives despite all; how resilient we are, when we find our craft and art. No matter what brutal upbringing we’ve suffered. Despite her young, ill-advised marriage to an artist she could barely communicate with, Gornick begins to find her muse. Notice that her animus, as Jung might call it, comes in the shape of a rectangle: “In the second year of my marriage the rectangular space made its first appearance inside me. I was writing an essay, a piece of graduate-student criticism that had flowered without warning into thought, radiant shapely thought. The sentences began pushing up in me, struggling to get out, each one moving swiftly to add itself to the one that preceded it. I realized suddenly that an image had taken control of me: I saw its shape and its outline clearly. The sentences were trying to fill in the shape The image was the wholeness of my thought. In that instant I felt myself open wide. My insides cleared out into a rectangle. All clean air and uncluttered space, that began in my forehead and ended in my groin. In the middle of the rectangle only my image, waiting patiently to clarify itself. I experienced a joy then I knew nothing else would ever equal. Not an “I love you’ in the world could touch it. Inside that joy I was safe and erotic, excited and at peace, beyond threat or influence. I understood everything I needed to understand in order that I might act, live, be.” Yes, this is the author’s soul speaking. It is the only place in the book where I sensed Gornick’s extreme caution in describing that which cannot be described (call it the flow, zone, epiphany, enlightenment). The dreamy girl who swung her legs for hours on end over the tenement apartment’s fire escape, who tried to negotiate the conflicting female authority in her breeding has come to full fruition. For me, the rest of Gornick’s story became silhouetted against this shared experience of coming up as a writer in a household with mixed messages. This youthful flowering of the author into a writer was lovely to witness. I know that rectangle as home. Although Gornick never spells out that leap for the reader, to me the geometric image she chose (unconsciously perhaps) to contain her burgeoning writer’s soul, so visually ties back to her childhood tenement described in detail early on as a “train,” not a railroad flat. Home, that rectangular container is where her heart is. And Gornick has a lot of heart. Love is a huge theme and preoccupation of hers. The reader who is weaned on our cultural addiction to Hollywood/TV romance might not easily recognize that. Thus, this passage is a second denouement of the narrator’s striving to self-actualize through love and work: “Love is a function of the passive feeling life, dependent on an ideal other for satisfactory resolution: the primitive position into which we are born. Work is a function of the active expressive life, and if it comes to nothing, one is still left with the strengthening knowledge of the acting self. Only when access to the imaginative life is denied does one go in for love in a big way.” Indeed, this is a pat defining of love and work, and I lean toward to feeling it’s simply too binary. But there is one male character in Gornick’s post-divorce love life, Davey, who progresses from interesting to ridiculous to sublime (he cannot leave his airtight world to communicate). He ends up an adherent to Orthodox Judaism and I can only wonder if Gornick has positioned him as the Fool who unwittingly spouts a tad of wisdom. After they’ve split and he has gone off the deep end, during a chance encounter Davey tells her, “The masculine and feminine are one. You will not let them be one . . . let them come together and you will be whole.” I first came to Gornick via her short but richly loaded text, The Situation and the Story, a guide I regularly use when coaching creative non-fiction (and fiction) writers. I would read anything Vivian Gornick writes. She has so much to offer.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    Vivian Gornick’s relationship with her mother was endlessly combative and antagonistic, but also utterly foundational to her life. She seems to have spent much of her life defining herself in opposition to her mother, separating her sense of self from her mother’s, as children inevitably do and must. The shape of her life—journalist, feminist, highly educated, single (after a brief, unsuccessful marriage), sexual, childless—is utterly unlike that of her mother. But then people keep saying, “Oh, Vivian Gornick’s relationship with her mother was endlessly combative and antagonistic, but also utterly foundational to her life. She seems to have spent much of her life defining herself in opposition to her mother, separating her sense of self from her mother’s, as children inevitably do and must. The shape of her life—journalist, feminist, highly educated, single (after a brief, unsuccessful marriage), sexual, childless—is utterly unlike that of her mother. But then people keep saying, “Oh, you’re just like your mother.” And she is horrified and appalled. And then she acknowledges the truth of the connection. This book is ultimately about being the child of a parent and being oneself apart from that parent, about separating self from its original source while also inheriting much of one’s self from that same source. Even as she consciously rejected almost everything her mother taught her about being a woman in the world, she also absorbed almost everything her mother taught her about being a woman in the world. She is forever in her mother’s apartment vestibule that she keeps describing, and to which she returns in the final passages of the book, simultaneously on her way in and on her way out.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Goldenberg

    Claustrophobic is the word often used in reviews of this memoir and it was also the first word that came to my mind. As a reader, you inevitably share Vivian Gornick’s feeling of being trapped in a sort of love-hate relationship with her mother. I enjoyed the first half of the book much more than the second for the way she so vividly brings to life her predominantly Jewish Bronx neighbourhood with its attay of colourful characters (in particular, the women). The way the author intersperses memori Claustrophobic is the word often used in reviews of this memoir and it was also the first word that came to my mind. As a reader, you inevitably share Vivian Gornick’s feeling of being trapped in a sort of love-hate relationship with her mother. I enjoyed the first half of the book much more than the second for the way she so vividly brings to life her predominantly Jewish Bronx neighbourhood with its attay of colourful characters (in particular, the women). The way the author intersperses memories of her childhood with walking through New York as an adult with her mother adds perspective and interest. What I found much less interesting in the second half were her lengthy accounts of her failed relationships with men.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Josh Friedlander

    I've long admired Gornick's passionate and electric criticism (quick sample: this on DH Lawrence), but was less familiar with her political/journalistic side. The Romance of American Communism - reissued by Verso in April - is having something of a moment, as they say. This memoir of her early-to-middle life, and torpid relationship with her mother, at first brought to mind a spin on the tawdry old cliché: "mommy issues". There are some doomed unhappy relationships, and a continual orbit around I've long admired Gornick's passionate and electric criticism (quick sample: this on DH Lawrence), but was less familiar with her political/journalistic side. The Romance of American Communism - reissued by Verso in April - is having something of a moment, as they say. This memoir of her early-to-middle life, and torpid relationship with her mother, at first brought to mind a spin on the tawdry old cliché: "mommy issues". There are some doomed unhappy relationships, and a continual orbit around a fierce, forceful mother who Gornick can neither satisfy nor turn her back on. She is clever but uneducated, loving but manipulative, a source of impassioned emotional maelstroms which lead to screams, wails, and sometimes blows. There is a wealth of literary comparisons from New York Jewish authors - Cynthia Ozick? Will Eisner? - but I was most reminded of the toxic love portrayed by Jenny Zhang in this story, perhaps going to show that the fierce attachments of each generation of immigrants, both clinging to and imprisoned by their close family, is an ever-repeating story.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Anna Varna

    What a book! It is very justly in the list of the 50 best memoirs ever. It is about a fierce mother daughter relationship but on a different level it is about everyone's relationship with their family with identity with the struggles with art and love. Beautifully written, Vivian Gornick is a master of sentences! Loved it!

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