Vivian Gornick

  • The Odd Couple

    I don’t know whether or not The Friend is a good novel or even, strictly speaking, if it’s a novel at all—so odd is its construction—but after I’d turned the last page of the book I found myself sorry to be leaving the company of a feeling intelligence that had delighted me and even, on occasion, given joy.

    The narrator is a writer whose great and good friend of thirty years (a man who’d once been her mentor) has committed suicide. She goes into shock and stops working: “I missed my deadline. Was given a compassionate extension. Missed that deadline, too. Now the editor thinks I’m malingering.”

  • Women's Work

    FORTY YEARS AGO, when the second wave of the American feminist movement was young, and its signature phrase, “the personal is political,” was electrifying, many of the movement’s radicals (this reviewer among them) went to war with the age-old conviction that marriage and motherhood were the deepest necessities of every woman’s life. If we looked honestly at what many of us really wanted, as we were doing in the 1970s and ’80s, it was not marriage and motherhood at all; it was rather the freedom to discover for ourselves the lives we might actually want to pursue.

    In our pain and anger at

  • The Lust Generation

    In an epigraph at the beginning of his new novel, All That Is, James Salter announces that he now realizes everything is a dream, the only reality is that which is preserved in writing. If this is true, Salter—the writer if not the man—has a lot to answer for. I have just spent the past few weeks reading a number of his books, and it seems to me that if anything is a dream, it is the motive force behind the work of this highly acclaimed writer who, for more than fifty years, has been producing novels and stories whose style is uniformly praised but whose content is rarely addressed. Now

  • The Victim

    Saul Bellow died in 2005 at the age of eighty-nine, and now we have, under the editorship of Benjamin Taylor (working closely with Bellow’s widow), a collection of 708 letters out of the thousands that he wrote. The letters are to publishers and editors; boyhood friends; wives, lovers, children; the crowd of writers Bellow knew, both famous and obscure. Many of these letters are rich in gossip, declarations of love and ambition, praise, criticism, and commiseration; the most touching among them are to the writers for whom he had tender feeling (John Berryman, Ralph Ellison, John Cheever) and

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    First came the Beats, then the hipsters, then the hippies: all within thirty years of World War II. By the 1980s, American countercultural radicalism had exhausted itself, but during its gloriously hectic run it had performed nobly enough that today it is (rightly) credited with having brought about indelible change in our politics, our social attitudes, our arts. Perhaps, most especially, our arts. It was 1950s realpolitik that did it. What had it meant, after all, to have won the fight against Nazi Germany only to be living within the straitjacket of cold-war anxiety?

    In the late 1940s,

  • Novelist as Metaphor

    Forty-eight hours after learning of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Susan Sontag delivered herself of a statement that was composed entirely of an indictment of the US government’s response to the horrifying event. The gist of the piece, published in the New Yorker, was her disgust with the rhetoric pouring out of Washington. “The disconnect between what happened and how it might be understood,” she wrote, “and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by virtually all our public figures . . . and TV commentators . . . is startling, depressing.”

    Many Americans