From the New York Times:
“I remember only the women,” Vivian Gornick writes near the start of her memoir of growing up in the Bronx tenements in the 1940s, surrounded by the blunt, brawling, yearning women of the neighborhood, chief among them her indomitable mother. “I absorbed them as I would chloroform on a cloth laid against my face. It has taken me 30 years to understand how much of them I understood.”
When Gornick’s father died suddenly, she looked in the coffin for so long that she had to be pulled away. That fearlessness suffuses this book; she stares unflinchingly at all that is hidden, difficult, strange, unresolvable in herself and others — at loneliness, sexual malice and the devouring, claustral closeness of mothers and daughters. The book is propelled by Gornick’s attempts to extricate herself from the stifling sorrow of her home — first through sex and marriage, but later, and more reliably, through the life of the mind, the “glamorous company” of ideas. It’s a portrait of the artist as she finds a language — original, allergic to euphemism and therapeutic banalities — worthy of the women that raised her.