Sunday Book Review – Fierce Attachments – Vivian Gornick

Book reviews by D.G. Kaye



Today’s book review is about memoirist, Vivian Gornick’s book – Fierce Attachments.

Gornick’s story takes us back to her childhood in the Bronx, alternating with scenes into the present and past, sharing her life in moments with her strong-willed mother in what reads as her life long struggle to separate from her mother to gain her independence, yet can’t seem to abandon the thread that bonds.

Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick



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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 despair”: the unacknowledged Oedipal nature of the mother-daughter bond.

Born and raised in the Bronx, the daughter of “urban peasants,” Gornick grows up in a household dominated by her intelligent but uneducated mother’s romantic depression over the early death of her husband. Next door lives Nettie, an attractive widow whose calculating sensuality appeals greatly to Vivian. These women with their opposing models of femininity continue, well into adulthood, to affect Gornick’s struggle to find herself in love and in work.

As Gornick walks with her aged mother through the streets of New York, arguing and remembering the past, each wins the reader’s admiration: the caustic and clear-thinking daughter, for her courage and tenacity in really talking to her mother about the most basic issues of their lives, and the still powerful and intuitively-wise old woman, who again and again proves herself her daughter’s mother.

Unsparing, deeply courageous, Fierce Attachments is one of the most remarkable documents of family feeling that has been written, a classic that helped start the memoir boom and remains one of the most moving examples of the genre.


My 5 Star Review


An emotional recanting with unrest looking into the family history, relationships, disappointments, struggles and triumphs between mother and daughter, Vivian Gornick, as she analyzes her life in vignettes in dialogue with her mother in present time, discussing stories and issues of the past, learning with sharing views on their live’s from different eras and circumstances in these richly woven stories.

The story takes us through depression time struggles, longing for self-satisfaction, unrequited love, compassion, anger, hurt, questioning fidelity, death, survival, and nonfulfillment as we learn about each of these strong-willed women’s characters.

In Gornick’s efforts to gain her independence from her mother, while learning to accept each other’s differences and ironic similarities, we find these two women coming back to one another full circle, such as life often happens.


38 thoughts on “Sunday Book Review – Fierce Attachments – Vivian Gornick

    1. Thanks Judith. Certainly a worthy read when you’re up to it. I also enjoyed the style in which the stories were written in. An interesting look into how 2 different generations interpet their stories. πŸ™‚ xx


    1. Yes Olga. And a wonderful read for those who like to delve into analyzing the difference in relationship between these 2 women – mother and daughter. πŸ™‚


  1. This seems to be a heavy read, a deeply emotional book, just like the relationship of a mother and daughter…however ruthless a mother may be, she remains a mother, the pull of the umbilical cord haunts. Thanks for sharing this wonderful review Deb. πŸ™‚


    1. Thanks Balroop. I found this book a refreshing spin on the style in which it was written flashing back to the past when telling stories of their relationship, and the present for reflection. I love your statement “the pull of the umbilical cord haunts”, beautiful. πŸ™‚ ❀


  2. From the short clip you shared, I already see how this story will hook me from the beginning and keep me snared to the end. Definitely one for the reading list. Thanks, Debbie for turning the spotlight on another good read. And congratulations to Vivian for making it through.


    1. I think it will keep you captivated Ann. Vivian Gornick is almost an icon in the world of memoir so I was most curious to read her own memoir. You may enjoy her nonfiction book – The Situation and the Story – The art of the personal narrative. πŸ™‚ x


    1. Thank you Sal. This was beautifully worded and a lovely compliment. I’m so glad that daughters are sharing their stories and glad to be part of the movement. Hopefully many mothers and daughters can take something from our stories – daughters can get a sense of their mother’s past and mother’s can learn to get out of the past. πŸ™‚ ❀


  3. What I truly believe would have been a wonderful adult relationship with my mother was cut short when she died when I was in my 30s – trying to make my way in NY, thinking there would always be “tomorrow.”

    Looks like a fascinating book, but I’m not sure if I could read a retrospective of this sort untouched by envy. I SO wish I’d had enough time with my mother to be ABLE to look back.
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”


    1. Thank you for sharing Madelyn. I’m sorry you lost your mom so young. I was 30 when I lost my dad so sadly, I know how that goes. πŸ™‚ xx


  4. Terrific review, Debby of what sounds a powerful book. I’m very intrigued about how this is written and of the subject matter…one I want to look at. Many thanks for sharing.


    1. Thanks Annika. I’m happy to hear my review piqued your interest. If you read it, I’d be interested to hear your take on it too. πŸ™‚ x


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