cover image The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir

The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir

Vivian Gornick. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22 (190p) ISBN 978-0-3742-9860-9

Gornick, a discerning and sharp-tongued literary critic (The Men in My Life), writes of her lifelong love affair with her native New York City. Gornick, who was born in the Bronx, introduces her prickly friend Leonard, a perpetually disgruntled gay man about her own age who shares with her “a penchant for the negative,” and employs him as a “mirror image witness” to her melancholy, solitary nature. Compulsively judgmental of friends and family (including her aged mother, who was the focus of her Fierce Attachments), Gornick delights above all in reporting snatches of dialogue and startling encounters that reveal a human expressiveness. Such raw moments include a conversation with her 90-year-old neighbor, Vera, who bemoans the sexual ineptitude of the men of her generation, and a lively exchange of sign language on the subway between a father and his disabled son. Gornick is admittedly lonely and sometimes befuddled by her feminist ideals, questioning her youthful belief that solitude was preferable to romantic love without equality. Gornick returns to many of the writers whose own quirks and grievances have obsessed her (Seymour Krim, Henry James, Evelyn Scott, and George Gissing, whose novel The Odd Women gave Gornick her own book title) and finds their voices reassuring and full of nuance, need, and the pain of intimacy—much like the voices of the city she craves. (May)