The best books, like the best friends and their best emails, like the most intimate and comforting conversations, make us feel understood. They make us feel like home is home. The Odd Woman and the City can be read as a guidebook for how to exist: how to exist while walking on the streets in the city where you live, how to exist inside a friendship, at a bizarre dinner party, how to exist in a world of strangers close by. These kinds of books, when you find them — and they’re so rare — you must carry around with you all the time for months on end. But you must read them bit by bit, in tiny parts, so you don’t use them up too quickly. They’re still useful on second readings (and the third and fourth), but there’s nothing quite like the exhilaration of reading them for the first time ... It seems so obvious it’s embarrassing to even type it, but it took Vivian Gornick’s account of her encounters with strangers and acquaintances and friends to remind me, to help me realize a person could become a person just by walking around.
...funny and elegiac and truth-dealing ... It’s a book in part about that feeling of futility that can sneak up on anyone late on a certain afternoon. But it’s also about a dozen other things: New York City, friendship, sex, intellection, class, the feminist movement of the 1970s, living alone. It’s a slim book with big echoes ... 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 a cheerful destroyer of certainties ... What puts The Odd Woman and the City across, however, is how deeply Ms. Gornick gets into the fat of feeling. She is as good a writer about friendship as we have. She is especially fine on the unraveling of old friendships, which can be more painful than breaks between lovers because less expected ... She has spent a good deal of her life, she writes, daydreaming about 'the tomorrow in which I would write a book of enduring value, meet the companion of my life, become the woman of character I had yet to become.' This lack of certitude is what puts a propeller on this memoir.
Vivian Gornick’s new memoir, The Odd Woman and The City, explores friendship and ageing, love and sex, aloneness and loneliness—how she became herself. This journalist, critic and writer steals from some of her own past writings, and these nonlinear marginalities become an ode to New York. It is her loosest and sexiest work to date ... In each of [her] works she is a different writer: a daughter, a feminist, a reader. In The Odd Woman and The City she is all of these at once and more: a sensualist, a fighter, an intellectual, and she reveals herself to be at once stronger and more vulnerable for it ... She has written here a book for those of us who need a new narrative, refracting and reflecting the urban landscape. Her voice is ambivalent, searching, always thinking on the page...Her ruminations on aloneness and human connection stay with me, wondering how we are alone together, why our attractions often repel ... Gornick writes lovingly and excitingly ... Gornick lays herself bare for our pleasure and gives us strength to continue being the Odd Women that we are.
Really, then, this is a kind of memoir-anthology: a composite Gornick. 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. At a certain point it becomes clear that this populous book is about being alone. This is strangely devastating. Writing about aloneness is an interestingly difficult task, like writing about air or the color white. Gornick mostly knows better than to confront it head-on; instead, she lets it seep into her descriptions of other phenomena: the intensity of her reading and friendships, her sensitivity to company ... Her memoir gains its tension from the threat of impinging loneliness, its joy from the encounters she forges on her own, nameless, on the street.
Gornick’s new memoir...is about constructing a life that doesn’t serve love, whether through hope or regret, indulgence or renunciation. There still aren’t many models for this ... The Odd Woman And The City is Gornick’s most ambitious attempt yet at the nonromance plot ... In its angular form, Gornick’s memoir resembles the 1970s fiction of Renata Adler and Elizabeth Hardwick ... Like them, Gornick hunts for broken resolutions, broken plots, and neuroses ... Among the substitutes for love that Gornick proposes in this book, the city is almost as potent as friendship. She styles herself as a flaneur, one of the masses seeking moments of recognition in the crowd ... If some of this sounds lonely, it is. Gornick’s memoir is a coming to terms with her outsider status—a richly felt and, to some extent, inspiriting one. But it doesn’t describe the integration of the single woman into society and, because of this, it’s a limited and individual response to a much broader problem ... Feminine solidarity, one powerful antidote to the siren calls of traditional romance, does not feature in this memoir. Gornick no longer writes of the exhilaration she felt for many years 'in the loose embrace of feminism.' ... Negotiating...modes of living has been the central tension in Gornick’s work, and it forms the other half of this latest attempt to live on her own terms. That’s something worth not giving up on.
Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the Cityis a book of ghosts ... This is not to say [it] is nostalgic. As she has throughout her career, Gornick stands against nostalgia, which does not mean she stands against history. For her, however, history is a source of context, a way of tracing what has changed and what remains ... [an] elusive and stirring memoir — a companion piece of sorts to the magnificent Fierce Attachments ... [The] question of time, of course, is essential to the memoir, which as a form unfolds in the amorphous middle ground between musing and memory. For Gornick, such a middle ground is always front and center because she remains vividly aware of her own thinking as crucible. The Odd Woman and the City is full of what she knows, what she ponders and most of all what she has read ... if longing is, in some sense, what motivates The Odd Woman and the City, the book builds to its own measure of acceptance, as well. Gornick can be wickedly pointed...but she is also clear-eyed, reflective ... It all adds up to nothing, and yet that nothing is the only thing we have.
In an age of often pointless confessional writing, Gornick remains a master of purposeful personal narrative. Her 'I' is a character, not the subject; her writing isn’t a speech, but an open dialogue. Through brief city vignettes...Gornick unfurls musings on the meaning of friendship, the comforting hum of urban life, and how we define ourselves against others.
New York, with its eccentric characters and charming or explosive random exchanges, figures large in Gornick’s work and the city again forms the explicit backdrop to her latest book, The Odd Woman and the City, an artfully arranged series of portraits of urban life, friendship and our heroine ... If it feels like a more settled, surer-footed work than Fierce Attachments this is probably because Gornick, three decades on, is more reconciled to her 'odd woman' status...
Regret, anxiety and nostalgia inform this finely crafted memoir, built of fragmentary reflections on friendship, love, desire and the richness of living in New York ... A gentle, rueful, thoughtful memoir.
Compulsively judgmental of friends and family...Gornick delights above all in reporting snatches of dialogue and startling encounters that reveal a human expressiveness ... Gornick is admittedly lonely and sometimes befuddled by her feminist ideals, questioning her youthful belief that solitude was preferable to romantic love without equality. Gornick returns to many of the writers whose own quirks and grievances have obsessed her...and finds their voices reassuring and full of nuance, need, and the pain of intimacy—much like the voices of the city she craves