This is the sort of book that other women will chat with you about while you're in the bookstore, as you reach across the table for it or wait in line at the register (bookstore checkout conversations being one of life's greatest small pleasures). "I absolutely love it, it was my favorite book last year," one lady said to me and the cashier at the Book Culture on Columbus, and then she told us she works at a different bookstore where Vivian Gornick is doing a reading on Valentine's Day. I was too busy paying to catch the name of this bookstore and can find no evidence online of such a thing happening, but Vivian Gornick would be a real pip to spend V-Day with, that's for sure: sharp, funny, rueful. Regret without whining is always a winning strategy, IMHO. It's the mark of a realist and a fighter, which is the coolest kind of cat to be.
The book itself (yet another memoir) is a slim collection of stories—journal entries, really—that are mostly about walks. I love reading about walks! The walking subgenre of autobiography is by far my favorite: arm any asshole rambling down a street or trail with a notebook and a pen and I'll probably read whatever they cough up. It's like my kryptonite.
As I saw myself moving ever farther toward the social margin, nothing healed me of a sore and angry heart like a walk through the city. To see in the street the fifty different ways people struggle to remain human—the variety and inventiveness of survival techniques—was to feel the pressure relieved, the overflow draining off. I felt in my nerve endings the common refusal to go under. That refusal became company. I was never less alone than alone in the crowded street.
On upper Broadway, a beggar approaches a middle-aged woman. "I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I just need—" he starts. To his amazement, the woman yells directly into his face, "I just had my pocket picked!" The beggar turns his face northward and calls to a colleague up the block, "Hey, Bobby, leave her alone, she just got robbed."
At three in the afternoon, a distinguished-looking couple is standing under the awning of the posh Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. The man has iron-gray hair and regular features and is wearing an expensive overcoat. The woman is alcoholic thin, has blond, marcelled hair, and is wearing mink. She looks up at him as I pass them, and her face lights up. "It's been a wonderful afternoon," she says. The man embraces her warmly and nods directly into her face. The scene excites my own gratitude: how delicious to see people of the moneyed classes acting with simple humanity!