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Fierce Attachments: A Memoir

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  9,810 ratings  ·  1,136 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published September 14th 2005 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published April 1st 1987)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  9,810 ratings  ·  1,136 reviews

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Feb 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
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 ...more
Dec 27, 2019 rated it liked it
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...
Mar 02, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Anne (On semi-hiatus)
Feb 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir, nyc, 2019

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
Jul 14, 2015 rated it did not like it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
Hannah Garden
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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

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
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jul 27, 2018 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
George K. Ilsley
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction
Beautiful, brilliant, thought-provoking, magical and completely down to earth.

A childhood in The Bronx. A girl's struggle with attachment to her mother and a fight for independence. Love is fierce, and family bonds are complicated.

Definitely want to read it again. So much wisdom takes some time to absorb.
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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:

No ARC was provided for the eliciting of my thoughts. I bought the memoir with my own spinster funds.
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. ...more
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Scathingly honest.

What a reading experience!

Wow! Wow! Wow!
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Sep 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading a lot of memoirs this year. Tove Ditlevsen took me from a working class childhood in Sweden to the awakening of a literary career, and through addiction and madness. Annie Ernaux made me a companion to a whole generation, and a witness to her parents, to herself in love, and to her last years with her mother. Philip Roth startled me with a frank, sensitive memoir of his own father's old age. Now, this dual, or even tapestry like memoir of womanhood - Gornick and her mother, the ...more
Jane Hoppe
Jul 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 02, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not a memoir about a spectacular event, such as crossing Australia or the Pacific Coast Trail, nor it is about surviving drunk, violent parents; AND YET it IS a journey, and it IS about surviving.
Fierce Attachments is a journey because it derives from a time and place where emotions and truth and pain intertwine with memory. Gornick has such a peculiar and beautiful approach to those -so many- moments shared with her mother. A walk through New York city with an aging mother is a walk th
Don Incognito
May 15, 2009 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Feb 04, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Nov 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book was as palatable as cooked spinach eaten after being left on the stove - three days later. If this is one of the best memoirs, this genre is not for me. I consumed this book through audible and the performer tried her best. I found this book skip between years as waves move sand around on the beach. I lost direction. I felt like someone took a diary, randomly ripped out pages, threw them in the air, and then put the pages back together - however they landed. I do not recommend this boo ...more
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Nov 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"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." ...more
Camille Cusumano
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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, ...more
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Vivian Gornick is the author of, among other books, the acclaimed memoir Fierce Attachments and three essay collections: The End of the Novel of Love, Approaching Eye Level, and, most recently, The Men in My Life. She lives in New York City.

Articles featuring this book

"Behind all your stories is always your mother's story. Because hers is where yours begin." -Mitch Albom The bond...
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“You’re growing old together,” she said to me. “You and what frightens you.” 19 likes
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