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The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir.


The Odd Woman and the City

A Memoir

By Vivian Gornick

A former columnist with the Village Voice, Vivian Gornick, who turned 80 this year, is a journalist and author. She has written 11 other works of nonfiction, including The End of the Novel of Love (1997) and The Men in My Life (2008), both of which were finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

THE TOPIC: In her latest memoir, Gornick details her relationship with Manhattan and its strange, fascinating residents, whom she encountered during her long, solitary saunters through the city. Such characters include a pizza deliveryman, a cross-dresser, and a radical dentist who counsels her to "let it all go." They all have this in common: "Most people are in New York because they need evidence--in large quantities--of human expressiveness; and they need it not now and then, but every day." As she walks, Gornick mulls over love, marriage, divorce, friendship, loneliness, and the single life she has chosen. She compares herself to Rhoda Nunn, who forsakes marriage and motherhood with startling consequences, in George Gissing's 1893 novel The Odd Women. "No one," Gornick writes, "is more surprised than me that I turned out to be who I am."

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 192 pages. $23. ISBN: 9780374298602

Buffalo news ****

"As before, it is New York City that thrills, chills and sustains Gornick--but, instead of her late mother (the raison d'etre for Fierce Attachments), she also focuses on friendship in its numerous permutations, the most enduring that of friend and alter ego, Leonard.... One of the charms of this memoir is the string of stories that accompany Gornick's musings--each a vignette of her beloved New York, an exchange overheard, a small scene witnessed, a conversation had with a stranger." KAREN BRADY

Los Angeles Times ****

"Here, we have the heart of this elusive and stirring memoir--a companion piece of sorts to the magnificent Fierce Attachments (1987).... Gornick can be wickedly pointed --of a stilted dinner party, she writes, 'The dinner is expensive, but the conversation is junk food'--but she is also clear-eyed, reflective." DAVID L. ULIN

New York Times ****

"Ms. Gornick's inability to make peace with the world--her high-strung air of discontent--is the condiment that spices so much of her work.... She is as good a writer about friendship as we have." DWIGHT GARNER

NY Times Book Review ****

"The effect of all the hopping between present and past is like that of a psychoanalytic monologue, a mind circling a central question: How did I come to be this way? Slowly, there emerges a self-portrait of the author, a proud woman who lives in a sparsely appointed apartment in Greenwich Village, who gets into arguments on the bus about loud cellphone conversations, who looks forward to joining the throng of people on the street during the long afternoon walk that is her break from writing." EMILY STOKES

Seattle Times ****

"[Gornick] has produced a new volume in the stubbornly candid, piercingly intelligent voice that informed her literary essays and criticism for the Village Voice and other periodicals.... There is no self-pity here, just a ferocious intellectual inquisitiveness and a lifetime affair with a city where Gornick's aliveness, her alertness are rewarded daily." MISHA BERSON

Denver Post ***1/2

"As a memoir from and of New York, The Odd Woman and the City is a collage of tales of all sizes from a lifetime in the city, a mosaic composed of photos taken in snippets of conversation, sometimes with friends, sometimes overheard, mostly from street level.... Collected, the macro effect is a broader sense of the complexities of relationships, of city life, of the writer's heart and mind" JENN FIELDS

Entertainment Weekly ***1/2

"In an age of often pointless confessional writing, Gornick remains a master of purposeful personal narrative.... Through brief city vignettes (like a subway preacher who considers sunscreen proof that white people don't belong on Earth), conversations with her pessimistic friend Leonard, and wise words from other writers, Gornick unfurls musings on the meaning of friendship, the comforting hum of urban life, and how we define ourselves against others" ISABELLA BIEDENHARN


The fragments and vignettes that make up this "marvelous new memoir" (Buffalo News), some as brief as a joke and others the length of an essay, swirl and bounce off of one another in nonchronological order. The short-term effect is somewhat dizzying, but together they provide a nuanced exploration of city life and the ebb and flow of relationships. "Gornick's Manhattan is a charming city in which people speak a little like New Yorker cartoons and never use iPhones," observed the New York Times Book Review. Nevertheless, Gornick's wry humor, ferocious intellectual curiosity, and complete lack of self-pity have produced a funny, elegiac, and "slim yet dense volume, which is best consumed a few pages at a time, rather than in one gulp" (Seattle Times).



A timeless book to be read by all


One of the best of its genre

*** GOOD

Enjoyable, particularly for fans of the genre


Some problems, approach with caution


Not worth your time
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Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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