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Fierce Attachments: A Memoir

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  994 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews
The acclaimed memoirist's classic exploration of her relationship with her mother.
"A fine, unflinchingly honest book."
-Mona Simpson, The New York Times Book Review
Paperback, 203 pages
Published September 30th 1997 by Beacon Press (first published 1987)
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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
Richard Gilbert
Sep 30, 2013 Richard Gilbert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 25, 2008 Keleigh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: schooldaze
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 ...more
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.
Feb 16, 2011 Janelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 wo
Feb 10, 2013 Zenmoon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All those drawn to superb memoir
Recommended to Zenmoon by: By way of University study

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
Jane Hoppe
Jul 17, 2012 Jane Hoppe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Hannah  Messler
May 13, 2016 Hannah Messler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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 ...more
Mar 13, 2016 Judith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know how I happened to find this book or why I read it but it goes to prove my old theory that you can write a really good book about nothing at all if you have a good voice whereas you can take the most interesting story in the world and turn it boring if your voice is dull. This book was for me a page-turner about nothing more than a woman's love-hate relationship with her mother. I think any woman of my generation would enjoy this book because our relationships with our mothers are/we ...more
Jen Hirt
Gornick's most notable moments (notable in ways both good and bad) in this 1987 memoir come when she, with such an eye for literature, reconstructs detailed conversations with her mother, a Jewish socialist widow who did not refrain from drama. Although Gornick and her mother were often arguing (or, it seems, having total meltdowns on the streets of NYC), they were frequently together -- out for lunch, coffee, or entertainment, in these somewhat famous walks that make up the book. Gornick really ...more
Nov 15, 2013 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Scathingly honest.

What a reading experience!

Wow! Wow! Wow!
Robin Moore
The author has written a memoir about her Jewish upbringing in the Bronx, and her domineering and opinionated mother figures in heavily. The writer's mother became increasingly difficult following the early death of her husband. A neighbor, who is not Jewish and who also endures the unfortunate early death of her husband, latches on to the author in an effort to show her the ways of adulthood. Gornick attends College in New York, which pleases her mother until she learns that her daughter did no ...more
Tabitha Blankenbiller
The more I read other people’s work and critique my own, the more I am seeing that I need to trust my potential readers more. I don’t want to be an overblown author like Tolkein, taking twenty pages to describe a tree. For one thing I’ve never been able to get through a single one of his books. And in addition, such stilted description is all the more unnecessary in nonfiction writing. You’re writing about real life. The audience has likely seen and felt the same things that you’re describing. I ...more
Caitlin Constantine
I've seen this book cited as a classic of the memoir genre, and as I have recently undertaken the task of schooling myself in the classics, I figured I needed to read this. I'm glad I did. It's not because the story is particularly remarkable, because it's not - at least, not any more than the story of a working-class immigrant Jewish family in 1940s New York City can be - but because the way Gornick handles the story is practically virtuoso. She brings you into the claustrophobic setting of the ...more
Camille Cusumano
Nov 23, 2012 Camille Cusumano rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
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 ...more
Jul 06, 2010 Davita rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had the opportunity to study with Vivian this summer and I have to say, she's a brilliant writer and more importantly, a brilliant THINKER. Fierce Attachments is a great effort for how it pushes form, weaving back and forth between walks with her mother through NYC, and the life they shared in the Bronx with a colorful cast of characters during Vivian's childhood. I most enjoyed the voice of her mother, which is so authentic and deliberate and faithfully rendered, that is practically leaps off ...more
I'll be perfectly honest:
Were I not on a plane and if I had anything else to read, I would NOT have finished this book.
It's self-absorbed and, quite honestly, painful. I'm finishing reading it with the thought, "So what?" I can't manage to care about any of the characters because of how judgmentally they are all presented- no one seems to have any redeeming qualities at all, or if they do those qualities are overshadowed by their psychopathologies.
While I'm a bit bitter about the time I lost rea
Apr 10, 2010 Sonja rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a rather interesting memoir written by a Jewish woman, Vivian Gornick. Her father died when she was young and her mother assumed the victim role for the rest of her life, altho she did go out and get a job to support her two children. The author had trouble establishing relationships with men. She married once and divorced after 6 years or so. Then she slept with an old acquaintance for about 6 months and later on had an on-going relationship with a married man for 6 years. She and her ...more
Eveline Chao
Love and am so fascinated and compelled by Gornick's strong, distinctive, intense, clear voice. There's never any of that "okay let me force myself to read 30 pages and then I'll start getting into this" effort on my part when it comes to reading her stuff - the voice just grabs me immediately from sentence 1 and speeds me along and then plops me down firmly at the end. I do wish sometimes that she would be more expansive and write longer stuff. But I also get that part of the power of her books ...more
Eh. It's Vivian Gornick, so one expects brutality. She delivers. I never really felt the relationship between the author and her mother was satisfactorily explicated. Rather, the book described a collection of fights, some childhood memories, and went into some detail on the author's romantic relationships and her attitudes toward love. I guess this was supposed to connect back to her mother's relationship with her husband and her agonizing widowhood, which seemed to be the heart of the book. Bu ...more
Jan 25, 2012 Deja rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A memoir about Gornick's relationship with her mother. A good memoir. Haunting, well-developed characters. And she seems to capture well the intensity and complexity of their relationship. I liked the form, too: current stories of walking the streets of New York with her mother as an adult weaved with stories from her childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. It's a book about her mother, yes, but it's also a book about NYC, the nature of grief and love, and how it feels to begin to make sens ...more
Aug 19, 2016 Lori rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
HOLY. COW. This book startled me awake with the ferocity of the writer's clear eye. Even when I winced with what felt like a harsh and unfair view of her mother, especially in the immediate aftermath of her mother's widowhood, I couldn't look away. I admired the way she dedicated herself to the primal attachment she felt to her own intelligence, and I admired the way she showed how others saw her, without seeming to flinch.

Gornick is the kind of writer I feel especially drawn to, and the kind I
Sally Archer
Well, this book was on a list of "Best Books I have read this year". This was my google search. Fierce Attachments came up on the list, and being the Daughter of a Mother, and a Mother to a Daughter.. I thought this sounded really interesting. There were definitely parts of this book that I found fascinating. Growing up Jewish, in the Bronx NY the Author has some great stories, interesting characters, and the oppressive rolls women played during the time of her childhood.. and how women overcame ...more
E. Ce Miller
Jun 11, 2015 E. Ce Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved Vivian Gornick’s “Fierce Attachments,” about the simultaneously evolving and ever the same relationship between a mother and daughter. The story traverses the territories between the working-class Bronx apartment building where memoirist Vivian Gornick grew up, and later, the downtown Manhattan walks shared between the daughter and her aging mother.

The setting of Gornick’s childhood was a New York tenement apartment, filled with hardened and determined immigrants who lived on top of one
Feb 14, 2015 Leslie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Maayan K
Jul 18, 2016 Maayan K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fierce Attachments is great title for this book. This is my second book by Gornick and I found it equally as good as her book of personal essays "Approaching Eye Level," (which weirdly enough, was recommended to me by my dad).

This is about the intense but anguished relationship between Gornick and her mother, both as a child in their Brox apartment, and then later as an adult when they walk the streets of New York together. Her mother is a delusional but smart ringleader among the women in the b
Aug 15, 2009 Elyssa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Vivian Gornick is a skillful writer, but this memoir never seemed to permeate me the way stronger memoirs do. I did enjoy reading about her experience of growing up in The Bronx as well as her marriage and relationships as an adult. I also Googled the author about halfway through the book and learned that she had fabricated a few parts of the memoir, which impacted the remainder of my reading experience.
There were parts I liked but probably more parts that I didn't like. I thought I would see more of myself and my relationship with my mother, but it was really hard to connect to either mother or daughter in this book. They both seemed emotionally stunted and selfish and I felt at the end that I no longer wanted more from it; I just wanted it to be over.
Joan Rough
Jan 01, 2014 Joan Rough rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most honest memoirs I've ever read. It's about a mother/daughter relationship and the woman the daughter becomes in her mother's shadow. Brilliantly written and bold.
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Date of Birth: 1935

Vivian Gornick is an American critic, essayist, and memoirist. For many years she wrote for the Village Voice. She currently teaches writing at The New School. For the 2007-2008 academic year, she will be a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University. She caused a controversy when she said that she had invented parts of Fierce Attachments, her largely autobiographica
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“Nettie, it quickly developed, had no gift for mothering. Many women have no gift for it. They mimic the recalled gestures and mannerisms of the women they’ve been trained to become and hope for the best.” 0 likes
“My mother was kind,” she said. “She had a kind heart. Your mother? She was organized. My mother would sit up with her own kids when they were sick, and she’d sit up with you, too. Your mother would march into the kitchen like a top sergeant and say to my mother, ‘Levinson, stop crying, put on a brassiere, fix yourself up.” 0 likes
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