Fierce Attachments: A Memoir
Few books are so gripping that they change your perception of the world around you. Even fewer books make you see your intimate relationships in a whole new light. Because of its bold, honest insights about mothers, daughters and the growing up/growing away process, _Fierce Attachments _made me re-examine my relationship with my own mother.
Fierce Attachments tells the story of the twists and turns of a loving yet angrily ambivalent mother-daughter relationship. The book flits back and forth through time; moving from the author’s childhood in a poor ghettoized Jewish neighborhood in the 1950’s and then coming back to the 1980’s to visit the author’s currently troubled but successful life.
The narrative is structured so that long dramatic stories about the characters and events of the author’s childhood are punctuated by scenes illustrating the everyday concerns and events of her recent life. Nonetheless, these recent activities – dinner with her mother, shopping, a mother and daughter stroll down the city streets – all relate to the lingering feelings the narrator experiences regarding the past. The "current" narrator often tries to clear something up that troubled her in the past only to be frustrated again and again by her "current" mother’s inability to understand or face her daughter’s needs. Gornick does such a wonderful job of describing the strange characters of her childhood that I feel I know the people myself, almost better than I know my own friends.
One reason the book is so evocative is because Gornick fears nothing, and is ruthless in describing the details of her own childhood sexuality and the way it was triggered, ignored and maligned by adults’ careless treatment of her. Gornick does not hesitate to say that her mother was too physically needy when she was mourning the death of her husband – Gornick’s father – and that Gornick could not let another woman touch her, even casually, for years after that experience.
Sometimes the characters and tales of this book seem almost too perfect, too fiction-like for a memoir. In fact, years after the book was written, Vivian Gornick admitted that some of her memoir had been fictionalized (she was outed by an article on Salon.com). However, fiction or memoir, the book retains a profound rendering of the human psyche, and especially, the fierce nature of mothers and daughters. After reading it, you will have _Fierce Attachments’ _brilliant, burning characters and images seared onto your brain.