Vivian Gornick, one of our finest critics, tackled the theme of love and marriage in her last collection of essays, The End of the Novel of Love, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. In this new collection, she turns her attention to another large theme in literature: the struggle for the semblance of inner freedom. Great literature, she believes, is not the record of the achievement, but of the effort.
Gornick, who emerged as a major writer during the second-wave feminist movement, came to realize that "ideology alone could not purge one of the pathological self-doubt that seemed every woman's bitter birthright." Or, as Anton Chekhov put it so memorably: "Others made me a slave, but I must squeeze the slave out of myself, drop by drop." Perhaps surprisingly, Gornick found particular inspiration for this challenge in the work of male writers—talented, but locked in perpetual rage, self-doubt, or social exile. From these men—who had infinitely more permission to do and be than women had ever known—she learned what it really meant to wrestle with demons.
In the essays collected here, she explores the work of V. S. Naipaul, James Baldwin, George Gissing, Randall Jarrell, H. G. Wells, Loren Eiseley, Allen Ginsberg, Hayden Carruth, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth. Throughout the book, Gornick is at her best: interpreting the intimate interrelationship of emotional damage, social history, and great literature.
Praise for The End of the Novel of Love: "[Gornick] is fearless.... Reading her essays, one is reassured that the conversation between life and literature is mutually sustaining as well as mutually corrective."
—Elizabeth Frank, New York Times Book Review
"Reading [Gornick] is a thrilling, invigorating, challenging experience."
—Barbara Fisher, Boston Sunday Globe
"Vivian Gornick's prose is so penetrating that reading it can be almost painful.... [This book] stands out as a model of luminous clarity."
—Susie Linfield, Los Angeles Times
Praise for The Solitude of the Self: "I love writers who treat thinking as a dynamic process. Ms. Gornick does—here and in all her books. Imagine a photographer of the psyche. She studies her subject from all angles. Whether in close-up or on a landscape crowded with political and religious movements, she explores the public and private selves.... What a potent book this is!"
—Margo Jefferson, New York Times
A Boston Review Book
About the Author
Vivian Gornick is the author of many books, including Fierce Attachments: A Memoir, The Romance of American Communism, The End of the Novel of Love, The Situation and the Story, and, most recently, The Solitude of the Self: Thinking about Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
"Gornick is a vigorous and sophisticated thinker.... [The Men in My Life] illustrates how magnificent the literary yield of human frailty can be.... [An] excellent collection.", Anne Garner, Library Journal
"Vivian Gornick makes you want to read. In her new collection of essays, The Men in My Life, authors, all great literary men, come alive on the page like great characters, bleeding, raging and most of all trying (but almost always failing) to love.", Judith Lewis, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Gornick remains one of the more intelligent, independent-minded readers writing criticism today, one who insists on making a connection between how we read and how we live.... The essays in this collection, in their conviction about the relevance of literature in this hypertext age and their attentiveness to the irritant of all-too-human despair that yields the pearl of lasting art, will provide enjoyment and illumination for fans old and new.", Daphne Merkin, Bookforum
"Gornick, a reader of immense sympathy and insight, is not out to expose and chasten the unseemly underbellies of the men in her life, but rather, as she says in the preface to this short, elegant book, 'to think more inclusively about the emotional imprisonment of mind and spirit to which all human beings are heir.'"—Village Voice
"... [the book] for the man who loves women."—Playboy
“Whether she is writing about a friendship that has gone wrong or the work of James Baldwin, Gornick brings a rare honesty, appropriate anger, striking precision and great tenderness to her subject.” —New Statesman