Seeing Through Places: Reflections on Geography and Identity

Mary Gordon, Author Scribner Book Company $23 (256p) ISBN 978-0-684-86254-5
Composed of eight loosely connected essays about places that have marked Gordon's (Spending) life, this beautifully written but uneven memoir evokes above all the intensely sensual and emotional perceptions of childhood. Proceeding from a brilliant New Yorker essay (""My Grandmother's House"") about a childhood dominated and emblematized by a powerful and mysterious matriarch and her old-fashioned house, Gordon tracks her progress outward to the grand Manhattan spaces that were her refuge as a student at Barnard, to a beloved writer's retreat on Cape Cod, then to her return to the apartment of her girlhood dreams as a Barnard professor. Not surprisingly, the writing anchored in childhood is the strongest; there, Gordon conveys a sadness and solitude that is a kind of fertile darkness. Nurtured by her Catholic- and Hollywood-themed fantasies, ""trying to construct a world of lightness,"" she nonetheless practiced a ruthless honesty that, she notes, serves her well as a writer. The child of a gentle failure, a writer of unpublishable pieces, and of a proud, polio-crippled working mother, Gordon was forced to move in with her grandmother after the death of her father. There, she marinated in the shadows, seeing but seemingly unseen, making observations shot through with longing and wit. An immaculate young priest entered the darkly feminine house, making the girl feel ""a lightening of the atmosphere that made me think there was some hope for my future life."" The later essays are often sketchy and self-indulgent, as when she ruminates about her good fortune in landing again at Barnard. At her best here, however, Gordon shows us the creative power of remembering. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/03/2000
Release date: 01/01/2000
Hardcover - 324 pages - 978-0-7862-2576-7
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-684-86255-2
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-7432-2658-5
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