The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick
The Odd Woman and the City is Vivian Gornick’s memoir of her most enduring friendship: her friendship with New York. She starts with her friend Leonard. Every week they meet and walk and talk through the streets of New York. They are old friends re-establishing themselves in each other’s company each week as they take in the city. She sets out, in an unchaptered stream of anecdote, the geography of her life, both internal and external; the life she has led and the one she has always waited to begin. New York provides a map of both. What works so beautifully in these memoirs are the moments when the imagined life and the lived life collide.
Woven into the tapestry of voices that is New York and Gornick’s own search for self are the stories of other odd women and men whose relationship to a city and to friendship were so central to their being. She walks with Samuel Johnson, who could only find solace from his deep melancholy in the evidence of the city, the evidence of other lives being lived. We find that same relief from introspection in the man who won’t get off the bus, and the people waiting in line in the pharmacy and talking about sex. These quotidian moments lead back to literature, to existential musing and then on to another moment lived.
Through this rising tide of voices from many eras cuts the authorial voice of a woman who recognises herself in the city she inhabits, who revels in it. As an Odd Woman, a woman who has forever been on the margin, she writes beautifully of the interplay between the city and self, between the lived and the always unlived, the multitude of the city and the singularity of the self, the Odd Woman.
Marie Matteson is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.