The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick
The Art of Personal Narrative

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A guide to the art of personal writing, by the author of Fierce Attachments and The End of the Novel of Love

All narrative writing must pull from the raw material of life a tale that will shape experience, transform event, deliver a bit of wisdom. In a story or a novel the "I" who tells this tale can be, and often is, an unreliable narrator but in nonfiction the reader must always be persuaded that the narrator is speaking truth.

How does one pull from one's own boring, agitated self the truth-speaker who will tell the story a personal narrative needs to tell? That is the question The Situation and the Story asks--and answers. Taking us on a reading tour of some of the best memoirs and essays of the past hundred years, Gornick traces the changing idea of self that has dominated the century, and demonstrates the enduring truth-speaker to be found in the work of writers as diverse as Edmund Gosse, Joan Didion, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin, or Marguerite Duras.

This book, which grew out of fifteen years teaching in MFA programs, is itself a model of the lucid intelligence that has made Gornick one of our most admired writers of nonfiction. In it, she teaches us to write by teaching us how to read: how to recognize truth when we hear it in the writing of others and in our own.


About Vivian Gornick

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Vivian Gornick, "one of the most vital and indispensable essayists of our cultural moment" (Phillip Lopate), has been widely acclaimed for her two books of memoir, Fierce Attachments and Approaching Eye Level. She lives in New York City.
Published October 11, 2002 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 184 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Not surprisingly, she holds that a successful author draws upon personal experience to illustrate broader truths, which involves engaging “one’s own part in the situation—that is, one’s own frightened or cowardly or self-deceived part.” To illustrate her point, she has culled a variety of persona...

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The New York Times

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programs.'' For Gornick, who has been teaching writing for 15 years, the important thing in organizing a personal narrative is figuring out ''who is speaking, what is being said and what is the relation between the two.'' Once you've discovered who you are at the time of writing, then the rest of...

Dec 16 2001 | Read Full Review of The Situation and the Story: ...

Publishers Weekly

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(Sept.)Forecast:Poised for a warm embrace in writing programs and college seminars, this slim tome from a nonfiction master will undoubtedly inspire young writers, while Gornick's loyal fans will enjoy her unmistakable erudition and felicitous prose.

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Project MUSE

It is unlikely that any one picking up The Situation and the Story would qualify as a disinterested reader, yet the basic premise of Gornick's claim still helps to explain the value and success of Gornick as our guide to the mysteries of effective non-fiction narrative.

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David G. Schwartz

For example, while talking about the reversal of the modernist triumph of voice over narrative, Gornick writes, “At the same time that the power of voice alone has been dwindling, an age of mass culture paradoxically much influenced by modernism has emerged on a scale unparalleled in history, and...

Jan 27 2009 | Read Full Review of The Situation and the Story: ...

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