Vivian Gornick’s memoir: living outside of marriage and family

Cover00Elizabeth Gumport at Bookforum:

The Men in My Life, Vivian Gornick’s 2008 collection of critical writing, begins with an essay on the nineteenth-century British novelist George Gissing. Gornick particularly admires his novel The Odd Women (1893). In the book’s feminist reformer, Rhoda Nunn, Gornick writes, “I see myself, and others of my generation, plain.” Caught between her ideological opposition to marriage and the uncertainties of taking a lover, Nunn falters, and “she becomes,” as Gornick puts it, “a walking embodiment of the gap between theory and practice.” This gap is familiar territory for Gornick: In her work as a critic and memoirist over the past several decades, she has studied moments in history when ideas remade our daily reality—and the times when the world, or we, would not yield. “I knew intimately what was tearing these people apart,” Gornick writes of Gissing’s characters. “What’s more, I recognized myself as one of the ‘odd’ women. Every fifty years from the time of the French Revolution, feminists had been described as ‘new’ women, ‘free’ women, ‘liberated’ women—but Gissing had gotten it just right. We were the ‘odd’ women.”

Gissing’s novel echoes through Gornick’s new memoir, The Odd Woman and the City. The book is ostensibly about Gornick’s thirty-year friendship with Leonard, “a witty, intelligent, gay man” (and fellow native of the Bronx). Scenes from their relationship are broken up by vignettes of Gornick’s daily life in the city, her encounters as a solitary walker on the streets of Manhattan. Like Gornick, Leonard loves to explore the city on foot, but that is not their only shared interest: “Our subject is the unlived life. The question for each of us: Would we have manufactured the inequity had one not been there, ready-made—he is gay, I am the Odd Woman—for our grievances to make use of?”

more here.