Approaching Eye Level: The ache of isolation and the miracle of writing

Vivian Gornick’s essays, first published in 1996, centre on aloneness but not loneliness

Vivian Gornick has a complicated relationship with feminism

Vivian Gornick has a complicated relationship with feminism

In Fierce Attachments, Vivian Gornick’s 1987 memoir about her mother, there is a scene near the end where both women are arguing. Her mother asks: “Why don’t you go already?” to which Gornick thinks – but doesn’t say out loud – “I’m half in, half out”. She cannot stay, and she cannot go.

This could be perceived as a kind of familial bind, a situation there is no solution to, but not for Gornick. In all of her writing, she knows the benefit of being both inside and outside – half in, half out – of a situation. It’s an acknowledgment of how one can have conflicting ideas and feelings but not be undone by the lack of symmetry. This conflict thrives in all of her work, as does her examination of the self, which she frequently positions as outsider.

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