fierce attachments: difficult mothers and the daughters who love them

by nikki meredith

A few years ago I was at an all women dinner party and we started talking about our mothers. Because it’s Marin County — an area saturated with shrinks of all stripes —  there was a lot of shrinkish  vocabulary circulating the room.  At one point when I talked about my mother and my complicated relationship with her, one of the women said,  “She must have been a narcissist.” No, I said, she was not a narcissist and I tried to back up my claim with examples of her non-narcissistic behavior. Another woman opined that my mother must have had boundary issues. Yet another, diagnosed her as borderline. I changed the subject. These terms, as applied to someone I cared about, were not only off the mark, they were offensive.  Where, I thought, is a novelist when you need one?

And this brings me to Vivian Gornick and her book, Fierce Attachments, a memoir structured around her walks with her aged mother in New York City and after which we named this web site. Gornick is not a novelist and it is not a work of fiction – I’ll get to that issue in a minute — but if you’ve read it, try to imagine someone affixing Gornick’s mother – an exasperating woman who could be petty and narrow-minded but who was also smart, courageous, and funny – with a label from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.  Imagine how much of the power and the intensity would be lost. Read the rest of this entry »