Picks and Pans Review: Fierce Attachments

updated 05/18/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/18/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Vivian Gornick

There seems to be no end to the growing-up-Jewish-in-the-Bronx books, yet this often-mined subject continues to provide material for splendid writers. In this treatment the fiercest attachment in Gornick's life is to her mother, who was widowed in her 40s and spent the rest of her life in raging grief and depression. In a beautiful motif that runs throughout the book, the two women walk in New York City, commenting, probing, inflicting pain on each other, but gradually finding marginal understanding. Gornick marries an artist when she is in graduate school and describes herself through his eyes: "I was a fierce moralizing Jewess...I worshipped at the shrine of Art." Their relationship proves too intense and the marriage ends. Later she has a long affair with a married man who "was endlessly absorbed by his own effort to make sense of things. I think each time he told one of his old stories he expected to find something new in it that would explain things better than it had the time before." Clearly, that man too was an artist. Kate Simon, the travel writer, has written two very good volumes of an autobiography that deals with many of the themes in Fierce Attachments. Gornick is tougher than Simon, though, blisteringly honest and capable of observations such as this, about New York after a rain: "The streets glitter in the pale spring sunlight. Cars radiate dust-free happiness. Storefront windows sparkle mindlessly. Even people look made anew." Now, that's writing. (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, $15.95)

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