Fierce Attachments: A Memoir (FSG Classics)
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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 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.
nonetheless heard the words. The mother in her had heard the mother in me. I saw the man again today. This time it had been five years. My mother and I were on upper Broadway, looking for a shoe store recommended for its walking shoes. As we approached Eighty-third Street he turned the corner. Involuntarily I flinched. “What is it?” my mother asked. “Nothing,” I said. But her eyes had followed mine and she saw that I was held by the face of a man like that of fifty other derelict-looking men
and yet not know each other. The man was sitting with his arms extended across the back of the bench, his legs stretched out before him. He had a brown felt hat tilted forward on his head and a toothpick in his mouth. His face was not turned directly toward Nettie but, rather, angled at her. Nettie, too, seemed to be sitting peculiarly. The upper half of her body faced directly toward the lake but the lower half was twisted toward the man, her long midriff made even longer by her position. She
overpowering. I stared at people I knew (children playing, friends laughing, couples walking), as though across an immeasurable distance at a form of life foreign to me and permanently unavailable. To be one half of an ordinary human exchange taking place in the unbounded open seemed, during the hours I hung out the window, unthinkable. That is, unimaginable. The imaginable had always been problematic. When I was a child the feel of things went into me: deep, narrow, intense. The grittiness of
second, and quick! I’d get down two paragraphs of readable prose. Time passed. Much time. Much dead time. Finally, a page. Then two pages. When there were ten pages I rushed to print. I looked at my paragraphs in print: really looked at them. How small, I thought. How small it all is. I’ve been sitting here so long with these pages, and they’re so small. A man said to me, “Good insight. Pity you didn’t have time to develop it.” A woman said, “What you could do if you didn’t have to meet
fortified, endowed with new spirit, new will. When the balance is lost I feel buried alive in failure and deprivation, without love or connection. Friendships are random, conflicts prevail, work is the sum of its disabilities. Tonight I am hanging on by my fingernails, barely able to hold it all together. I sit at my mother’s kitchen table, drinking coffee. We have just eaten dinner. She stands at the sink washing her dishes. We are both edgy tonight. “It’s the heat,” she says. The apartment is