Monday, October 13, 2014

Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick

A guy in my class said he didn't like this book because Gornick tried too hard to explain her experience, that there was too much meditation interspersed with the stories from her life.

Well, I guess I need a lot of explanation, because Gornick's meditation on her experience was my favorite part.

To summarize, this is a memoir about Gornick's relationship with her mother. Gornick explores her childhood experience in a poor Jewish family in New York, and how this experience made her the adult she is: both rebellious toward her mother and exactly like her mother.

Vivian Gornick doesn't seem like the kind of person I would like to meet, but she's a fantastic writer. She does a wonderful job of portraying her mother both as a victim of circumstance and culture, a woman who tried her best, and as a cold, judgmental, controlling mother who should have tried harder (and, actually, as a strong and independent woman who rose above her circumstances). She also portrays herself as a person who is victimized, but has made her own choices, both good and bad. I think this was possibly the most fair way Gornick could have told her story.

That said, there were times when I thought she was a little too unfair, both to her mother and to other people. She relates lots of dialogue that, of course, she couldn't possibly remember word for word, and some of the things other people say are very poignant and say a lot about their character--portraying them almost as villains. If they didn't say those things exactly as Gornick wrote them, then that might be an unfair blight on their character.

But I'm willing to give Gornick some slack--of course she can't remember everything, and ultimately the book is about her and her experiences, so I can't say for sure whether she's really being unfair.

I wouldn't say this was my favorite book, maybe because I found it a little depressing, and I didn't like any of the characters. But it's a beautifully written memoir.

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