Florence Gordon Writes a Memoir

Florence Gordon Writes a Memoir

It’s astonishing how little people know each other, even old friends. . . .

Scenes from the novel Florence Gordon.

Upper West Side, New York City, 2010 (Sarah Ackerman / Flickr)

Scenes from a Novel


Florence Gordon was trying to write a memoir, but she had two strikes against her: she was old and she was an intellectual. And who on earth, she sometimes wondered, would want to read a book about an old intellectual?

Maybe it was three strikes, because not only was she an intellectual, she was a feminist. Which meant that if she ever managed to finish this book, reviewers would inevitably dismiss it as “strident” and “shrill.”

If you’re an old feminist, anything you say, by definition, is strident and shrill.

She closed her laptop.

Not much point, she thought.

But then she opened it up again.



She was writing a memoir that began with the early days of the women’s movement—the modern women’s movement; her own women’s movement, the one that had been born in the 1970s. If she could finish it, it would be her seventh book.

Each book had posed its own difficulties. The difficulty with this one was that she was finding it impossible to bring the past to life. Her memory was efficient; she could recall the dates and the acts and the actors. But she was finding it hard to remember the texture of the past.

Tonight she had finally begun, she thought, to crack the code. She’d remembered a moment that she hadn’t thought about in years. It was just a moment, not important in itself. But precisely because she hadn’t thought about it in so long, she was able to remember it now with a sense of freshness, and she was hoping she might have finally found the door that would lead her back into the past.

She was glad that she was free for the rest of the night. It was seven o’clock on a Friday in early May; she was through with her academic obligations and her mind was clear. And this evening, in which she’d finally, finally, finally, begun to make some progress—this evening was the happiest one she’d had in a long time.

Except that Vanessa kept calling.

Her friend Vanessa kept calling, and Florence kept not picking up. After the fifth call, she thought that Vanessa might be in some sort of trouble, and on the sixth, she finally answered.

“Thank God you’re home,” Vanessa said. “I’ve got a problem.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing big. Nothing terrible. It’s just that I got pickpocketed, evidently, and I don’t have anything except my phone. I need some money to get back home.”

“Where are you?”

“That’s why I called you. I’m three blocks away.”

She named a restaurant.

“Well I’m right here,” Florence said. “Just come up.”

“That’s nice of you. But it’s a little bit complicated.”


“The people I was having dinner with had to run, and I stayed to pay the check, and that’s when I found out my purse was gone. So the owner doesn’t want me to leave. He wants to be sure I’m not going to skip out on him.”

“Vanessa, you’re a very respectable-looking woman. You’re a very old woman. You’re obviously not skipping out on him. Tell him you’re not Bonnie Parker.”

“That’s just what I told him. That’s exactly what I told him, in fact. I told him I’m not Bonnie Parker. But he’s not being very understanding. I think he thinks I am Bonnie Parker. I’m really sorry. But it’ll just take a minute.”

People, Florence thought as she put on her shoes. What do I need them for again?



The restaurant was on 67th Street, between Broadway and Columbus. She went inside, couldn’t see Vanessa.

It was a fancy, expensive, somewhat full-of-itself restaurant. It didn’t seem like the kind of place where the owner would hold you hostage.

The greeter, a grave-looking man, asked her if she needed help.

“I’m looking for a friend. Woman my age? Couldn’t pay her bill?”

“Oh, yes. I know who you mean. She’s in the back room.”

They’ve got her in the back room, Florence thought. They’re working her over.

He led Florence down a hall and gestured toward an entryway, behind which the room was unaccountably dark. She stepped in, and the lights went on, and the room was filled with people shouting “Surprise!”

Friends from NYU, friends from the movement, friends from the writing world. Even her family was there: her daughter-in-law, her granddaughter.

Vanessa was embracing her.

“This was the only way we thought we’d be able to celebrate you.”

“It’s not my birthday.”

“I thought if we did it too close to your birthday, we’d lose the element of surprise. You’d know what was coming and you’d never show up. It was a delicate operation. Like trapping the mythical yeti. We wanted to celebrate you. And we wanted to get you out of your apartment so you could have some fun.”

It was astonishing how little people know each other, even old friends. I was having fun, Florence thought. I was having fun sitting in my apartment and trying to understand our life, our collective life. I was having fun trying to make the sentences come right. I was having fun trying to keep a little moment in time alive.

And now that was gone. She had been so close to seeing things clearly, but it had felt so precarious, so fragile. Who could know whether that little flicker of clarity would still be there in the morning.

Janine, her daughter-in-law, and Emily, her granddaughter, were at her side. They had been in New York for months now, and she hadn’t arranged to see them. She felt guilty for a moment, then realized that the guilt was merely a sort of tribute she was paying to convention—in fact, she simply hadn’t wanted to see them—and she stopped feeling guilty.

“Happy birthday, more or less,” Janine said.

“Not that you look that happy,” Emily said.

“I wish someone had nipped this in the bud.”

“I tried. I tried to nip it,” Janine said. “I told them it was a bad idea. But … Vanessa. She’s almost as much of a force of nature as you are.”

Oh Christ. Even Saul was here.

He put his arm around her shoulder. He seemed to be half drunk.

“I couldn’t not be here,” he said. “And I mean that literally. Your friend wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Someone Florence half-remembered materialized at her side and told a long story about how hard it had been to get there from Rockland County. Someone else told Florence a story about how hard it was to tear herself away from her adorable but not yet housebroken puppy. As Florence smiled and nodded and pretended to listen, all she was trying to do was to hold on to the moments of clarity she’d experienced at her desk, and all she wished for was to go back home.

In the women’s room, she looked at the window. It was ten feet off the ground. Maybe if I stood on the toilet seat I could lift myself up to the top of the stall …

No. Too craven. Too undignified.

She returned to the room where the celebration was in progress, picked up a glass, and tapped a knife against it until she had everyone’s attention.

“My friends,” she said, “I’m touched that you decided to do this. I’m touched, and I’m honored. What was it Yeats said? Something like ‘Think where our glory begins and ends, and say my glory was, I had such friends.’”

There was a murmur of appreciation.

“One of the things that I find beautiful about you all is that you understand me. I know I’m not easy to be with. I’m a difficult woman.”

“You’re a gloriously difficult woman,” Vanessa said—she always gushed too much—and others made noises of agreement.

“Well, thank you. But whether I’m gloriously hard to get along with or just plain hard to get along with, each of you have found ways to get along with me. Which is a tribute to your generosity, tolerance, and ingenuity. Because I’ve asked you to put up with a lot.

“And now I’m going to ask you to put up with one more thing. I’m delighted by this surprise party, but I’m going to leave you now, because I need to get back to my desk. I hope you know that I truly do appreciate this, and that I’ll be here in spirit. And I hope you have a wonderful evening.”

She turned and left. It would have been nice to avoid meeting anyone’s eyes, but it was more important to keep her head up, and therefore she saw the faces of several friends as she passed them. They looked as if they weren’t sure whether she was serious.

She left the restaurant and walked back up Broadway. She didn’t pause, she didn’t look back.

She had left her computer on, and as soon as she got home she sat back down in front of it. It took a while for the fog to burn away—the fog of embarrassment or ambivalence of whatever she was feeling—but after a time she found that she was not so far from where she’d left off. She worked for the rest of the night with satisfaction, and didn’t give her friends and well-wishers another thought.



Florence’s new editor wanted to meet her. He volunteered to come to her, on the Upper West Side, which was a display of deference that she appreciated.

But the reason he wanted to meet her, obviously, was to tell her that her literary services would no longer be required. She was fully aware that her books, with an impressive consistency, had lost money; she was fully aware that Edward had kept publishing her work out of personal loyalty, not because it made any business sense. With Edward gone, she knew she was gone as well.

She had tried hard to avoid the dreadful Kevin Cleaver. What was the point of meeting him in order to learn she was being dropped? He probably thought that telling her to her face was the humane thing to do. She didn’t want any part of it—send me an email, was her feeling—but he was intent on meeting her, and after three voicemails she’d decided that it wouldn’t be so bad. She would get to observe a human type that was unfamiliar to her, an experience that was always of interest; and she’d get a free lunch.

They met, at his suggestion, at Gabriel’s, a restaurant she liked but rarely went to, a friendly and relaxed and expensive place on West 60th Street.

“So this is the great Florence Gordon,” he said.

“Florence Gordon,” she said.

She was thinking: Don’t mock me. If you’re going to drop me, just drop me. Don’t humiliate me too.

He was so hip that she didn’t have words to describe him. She couldn’t even describe what he was wearing. He was wearing jeans, of course, but she couldn’t have given a good account of his shirt, or his earring, or his shoes. Especially his shoes. They were hipster shoes, shoes that proved that he was in the know, shoes you could probably only purchase in Williamsburg.

“Why?” she said.

“Why what?”

“Why are we getting together?”

He laughed at this.

“I’ve heard about how direct you are,” he said. “I would have been disappointed if you weren’t.”

“Thank you. So. Why?”

“Sorry if I’ve been badgering you. But I’ve been badgering you for two reasons. First, I wanted to meet you. Second, I read the beginning of your memoir the weekend before last, and I wanted to tell you how beautiful it is.”

Edward must have passed it on before he left.

She waited for the next sentence, which would inevitably start with “But …” But it isn’t really marketable. But we’re looking for a different kind of thing right now. But we’re not the best publisher to do justice to your work.

“It’s just wonderful. It’s everything I hoped it would be and more.”

It took a while for his words to reach her. He seemed to be speaking with a five-second delay.

“I’m glad you feel that way,” she said.

She was still waiting for the “But.”

“Those were my two reasons, as of last week. But as of yesterday, there’s a third reason.”

He produced two pieces of paper and slid them across the table. A blurry fax. A blurry faxed copy of the front page of the New York Times Book Review. With a review of How to Look at a Woman.

“Is this a prank?”

“If it is, it’s a prank that’s about to be perpetrated on a few million people.”

It was real. It was a copy of the book review section that would come out two Sundays from now.

“Read it.”

She read it. She was having trouble focusing—maybe I’m having a stroke, she thought—but it contained phrases like “a national treasure” and “an unsung heroine of American intellectual life.”

The review was by Martha Nussbaum, the University of Chicago philosopher, an author of books on every subject from Greek tragedy to disability theory to educational reform to the idea of religious tolerance in American life to—well, to everything else. Nothing human was alien to her.

She seemed to have read everything Florence had ever written. From the review you might have thought she’d spent her life doing nothing but meditating on Florence’s work.

“Jesus,” she said. “When did you get this?”

“Got it yesterday. I’m sorry I waited, but I got greedy. I wanted to show you in person. I wanted to see your face.”

“Did you get your money’s worth?”

“You seem remarkably calm, actually.”

“Well. Maybe not.”

“Maybe this is the way you look when you’re elated.”

She looked at the review again. It went on and on and on and on. Martha Nussbaum had always been a woman with a lot to say, and now she had a lot to say about Florence.

“It’s going to take some time to sink in. I can’t really understand it. I mean, why?”

“Depends on how you want to look at it. You could say it was long overdue. Or you could say you got lucky. Sometimes the Times likes to throw everybody a curve. Whatever the reason, it’s going to change your life. You’ve been declared a national treasure.”

She reached for a poppy-seed roll. The floor was tilting. They were on board a ship, and the ship was listing. The national treasure reached for a poppy-seed roll.



After she said goodbye to Kevin Cleaver, she didn’t know what to do with herself. She wanted to tell her friends, of course, but not yet.

She wandered over to West End Avenue and walked north. At first she thought she wasn’t headed anywhere in particular, but by the time she passed 79th Street she realized that she’d walked this way for a reason. Soon she was standing outside the building of a woman whom she’d known a long time ago.

Her name was Simone. She had been Florence’s French teacher at the Bronx High School of Science. She was the first woman who’d taken a special interest in her. Florence remembered Simone once telling her that she thought she was going to have an interesting life.

Florence and Simone had stayed in touch after Florence went to college, but Florence had withdrawn from her sometime after that. During the decade in which Florence had been little more than her husband’s helpmate, she’d been too embarrassed to stay in contact with Simone. She felt too much as if she’d let her down.

Simone had died before Florence started on her writing career; she’d never had the opportunity to be proud of her student’s successes.

Florence stood outside Simone’s building for another minute or two, looking up at what used to be her window.

Thank you.

Then she started back home.



For hours that night, as she sat at her computer, writing, in a state of carpal tunnel-y churlishness, Florence kept thinking about her son and daughter-in-law. Wondering why she didn’t feel more good will toward him. It was as if they weren’t related. There he sat, whenever she saw him, solid and stolid and impenetrable, getting drunk but never showing it, safely moated away from any questions about what the hell he had made of his life.

And his wife was worse: the eternal ingénue, panting with worshipfulness. Florence, do you write on a computer or a typewriter? Florence, do you write in the mornings or the afternoons? Florence, what did you mean by that colon on page thirty-two of that book you wrote thirty years ago? Why a colon instead of a dash? Really? Cause this is what I think it means … Florence, did you know Gloria Steinem? Florence, did you know Norman Mailer? Did you ever have an affair with him? I thought all the feminists of your generation had secret affairs with him. Florence, did you meet Emma Goldman? Ulysses S. Grant? Socrates? Jesus? Really, Florence, you never met Jesus? I could’ve sworn he refers to you in the Sermon on the Mount. Not by name, of course, but I thought the reference was pretty obvious. It’s here, on page thirty-two of the New Testament. I mean, why would there be that colon if he wasn’t thinking of you? Have I told you what I think that colon means on page thirty-two of your book?

The only way to deal with someone like that is to avoid her, and if you can’t avoid her, the only way to deal with her is to attack her. Florence felt slightly bad about going on about brain chemistry—she hadn’t believed a word she was saying—but she needed to do something to wipe that oppressive look of adoration off the woman’s face. The look of bafflement and hurt that replaced it was preferable. Florence always loved to talk to intelligent younger people; she was glad that a lot of younger women had liked her books; but she’d never wanted followers, groupies, acolytes, worshippers, “mentees.” Why did my son have to marry such a suck-up?

The granddaughter wasn’t so bad. She had a little bit of spirit, at least.



Florence got to the coffee shop early, but her ex-husband was already there. When she sat down, he looked at his watch and shook his head, as if she were late.

Saul looked unhealthy—but he always looked unhealthy these days. He was wearing a white shirt and a dark sport jacket; everything was clean and respectable; yet somehow he had the air of a man who was going to seed. He was the kind of person who doesn’t smell bad, as far as you can tell, but who looks like he smells bad.

What was it about him? She could never quite put her finger on it. There was something shifty and evasive about him; he seemed like a man who was spending his discretionary income on some surly dominatrix in Brooklyn.

“Well, well, well,” he said. “Hail the conquering hero.”

It begins, she thought.

“If you were fifty years younger I would have wondered if you’d given somebody a blowjob for that review. But who would want a blowjob from you now?”

“Maybe I gave a blowjob to someone very old.”

“A Blowjob for Methuselah. That should be the title of your next book. So is your life any different, now that you’re the queen of bourgeois mediocrity?”

“Is that what I am?”

“Of course it is. When you were a young firebrand, or whatever the hell you were, you never would have gotten a review like that. They only give reviews like that to people the establishment considers totally safe. Life is pretty good for you now that you stopped being a radical.”

“You obviously don’t read my stuff anymore, if you ever did,” she said. “Every word I’ve ever written has been in the service of human liberation, as best as I can imagine it. Every word I’ve ever written has been in the service of feminism, of anti-racism, of anti-capitalism, of a vision of a world in which people are both equal and free. Nothing I’ve written has ever deviated from that, Saul. Not one line.”

In her own ears, this sounded stirring. She felt as if she were outside herself, near the ceiling, watching herself with admiration as she delivered this statement of her beliefs.

Saul scrunched up his face and in a high, mincing, baby-talking voice, said, “Every word I’ve ever written has been in the service of the cervix.”

She had known that Saul would try to make her pay for her good fortune, and she had known that she was going to take it. Not because she feared him, but because she pitied him. After the coffee arrived he took out a vial and shook some pills onto the table. Pills of many different colors and sizes and shapes.

“I have to take fifteen of these goddamn things a day. Five in the morning, five in the … shit.”

One of the pills had rolled off the table. He bent over in his chair and picked it up and wiped it with his napkin.

Saul was one of the few people in the world on whom she didn’t feel free to unleash her aggression. She felt permanently guilty toward Saul. Not because she’d divorced him, but because she’d married him in the first place.

When she was young, she’d had a future in mind for herself, a future as a scholar and writer. She hadn’t yet conceived of herself as a feminist—this was the early 1960s, and she found her way to feminism only toward the end of the decade. But she’d already known that she didn’t want to be a housewife. And sometimes she thought that she’d married Saul with a touch of bad faith.

It was hard to remember it now, but at the time Saul had seemed like a winner: ruddy, hardy, healthy, and alive. He’d seemed like someone you could make good children with. And he’d also seemed like someone who wouldn’t detain her. It was as if she’d sensed from the beginning that the ties that bound them wouldn’t be that confining. He seemed easy to marry and easy to leave.

What it came down to was that she’d wanted children, but she’d never really wanted to be a wife.

She had divorced him in the mid-seventies, when Daniel was still a boy. It had seemed like a good time to leave him. Saul was thriving: he had a comfortable job at Adelphi University; he was writing regularly for the Nation and Dissent and the New Leader and the New American Review. And when she left him, he didn’t seem to mind. Always an incorrigible philanderer, he’d been seeing someone, an editor named Camille, for more than a year.

But then Camille was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died with an astonishing quickness, and a few years later he lost his job at Adelphi because of a mess of his own making. (He had fallen in love with a student, who reciprocated his interest for a while and then drew back, and after she drew back he went a little nuts.)

After that, it had been thirty years, no comebacks. He’d never gotten a comparable job—instead he taught for a year here, a semester there, and worked horribly long hours as a free-lance copy editor. He’d moved to increasingly shabby neighborhoods as his income declined, finally moving all the way to Brooklyn, which was the ultimate affront to his ego. For an intellectual of his generation, the great heroic journey was the journey out of Brooklyn into Manhattan; it was devastating to have to make the journey in reverse.

Florence had been looking forward to a Saul-free middle age, but she found out that things don’t work that way. When everything in his life fell apart, she felt she had to prop him up. She didn’t respect him, didn’t trust him, didn’t even like him, but she was going to have to look out for him, as best she could, probably for the rest of her life.

He took a long drink of water, and then he had a coughing fit, which went on for so long that it worried her. When it was done, it seemed to have aged him. As she looked across the table at him, with his forever-insulted face, the face of a man who believed that life had played a trick on him, she felt an infinite tenderness toward him, and toward the sad failed project of his life.



Emily had never been to a conference on feminism before. Actually, she’d never been to any kind of conference before. She didn’t think of herself as a conference-going kind of person. But the last talk of the day was going to be in honor of Florence—it was going to be given by Martha Nussbaum, the philosopher who’d feted Florence in the Times—and Emily, proud of her grandmother, was happy to be there.

At lunch, the organizer of the conference leaned over Florence’s shoulder, and Emily heard Florence saying, “That’s too bad.”

“What’s too bad?” Emily said.

“Martha Nussbaum isn’t coming,” Florence said. “She has the flu.”

“We’re in luck, though,” Elba said. “You’ll never guess who we got to step in for Nussbaum.”


“Willa Ruth Stone.”

“Really?” Emily said.

“Who?” Florence said.

“She’s a famous blogger,” Emily said.

Florence raised an eyebrow at this, but didn’t say anything.

Emily had read Willa Ruth Stone all through high school, in places like Jezebel and The Awl. In the last year or two she’d gone on to other venues, and Emily had stopped following her work. She didn’t seem like the obvious person to give a talk here—she was sort of a snark artist—but if someone as hip as that was a fan of Florence’s, Florence was even more of a rock star than Emily had realized.

“She said she’s really excited,” Elba said. “She said she’s always wanted to get the chance to honor you.”

The auditorium was packed, entirely with women; Emily hadn’t seen more than a couple of men all day. Looking over the audience, Emily guessed that a lot of the women there had come just to hear Willa Ruth Stone. They looked stylish and fresh, not like people who’d been listening to lectures all day.

Amazing how fast word gets around. Emily had grown up in the age of social media, but it still felt amazing to her.

Elba reminded everyone that they’d rented a room in the Kronstadt Bar on Thompson Street, that it would be open as soon as the symposium ended, and that drinks would be half price. Then she made way for the keynote speaker.

Willa Ruth Stone was lithe, blonde, beautiful—not movie-star beautiful, but beautiful for a writer. Everyone else who’d spoken that day had sat behind a microphone, but she had a wireless mike clipped to her shirt, so she could glide around the stage.

Florence was seated behind her. The lighting on the stage made her look ghostly.

The first twenty minutes of Willa’s talk was a sort of tour of the cultural landscape. After this part was finished, she turned and bowed to Florence, and then she turned back to the audience.

“It’s an honor to be here today to celebrate Florence Gordon, a woman I respect deeply,” Willa said. “Who could fail to respect Florence Gordon? Our lives would be inconceivable without her. She’s as indispensable as the pill. She’s as indispensable as Tampax.”

Emily was shocked by this. It was disrespectful. It was vulgar. But no one else seemed shocked. It got a laugh.

She tried to read her grandmother’s reaction, but from this distance Florence was unreadable.

“When the women of the New Left were being exploited by their boyfriends, Florence Gordon was there, to blow the whistle on it. When the media was ignoring sex discrimination in the workplace, Florence Gordon was there, with eloquence and statistics, to prove that it was a national disgrace. When Women’s Studies and Women’s History departments were being strangled in their cradles during the Reagan years, Florence Gordon was there to press our claims. Florence Gordon and her sisters created the world we’re living in today, and we thank them.”

Everyone applauded, and Florence nodded regally.

“But I know that Florence Gordon would want me to speak frankly today. To do anything less would be to fail to honor her. And speaking frankly, we have to admit that for most of us here, Florence Gordon’s world is the world of our grandmothers. We love our grandmothers, and we’re thankful to them, but we don’t want to be them. When I look around this room, at the faces of the women of my generation, I see women who want to express all the different sides of themselves. There are times when we want to speak out against the injustices of the world. And there are times when we want to put on stilettos and a little black dress and find a party.

“When we do want to stage a protest, our grandmothers are right by our side. They’re proud of us. But when we go out to party, our grandmothers get very upset. They call to us from the doorway: ‘What are you partying for! Men are still oppressing us! Capitalism is still evil! The Republicans still want to repeal Roe versus Wade! You can’t go out and party! There’s work to be done!’

“And when we hear our grandmothers calling to us like this, we have to respond honestly. We have to say: Yes, and yes—but no. Yes, women are often still victimized. Yes, capitalism still leaves us in a world of risk and constant change. But no. We don’t identify this world as evil. Unlike you, we embrace the risk. Unlike you, we see this imperfect world not as a world of wall to wall oppression, but a world of opportunity. In today’s world, women are in the boardroom, asserting themselves; and women are in the bedroom, enjoying themselves. It’s not the black and white world that you saw. It’s a world with many colors, and some of them are amazing.

“Sometimes I think this intergenerational argument comes down to pleasure. Our grandmothers seemed to believe that pleasure is a sin. We believe we need pleasure, just like we need fresh air and clean water and light. They believed you can’t do good in the world if you keep stopping to refresh yourself; we believe you can’t do good in the world if you don’t.

“We honor you, Florence Gordon. We honor you and your generation. We wouldn’t be here if not for you. To you and your sisters, I say thank you. We’ve learned so much from you. And one of the things we’ve learned is strength of mind, the strength of mind that now gives us the courage to say that your way is not our way.

“And now, at the end of this glorious day of conferring and confabbing, I turn to my sisters, and I say (cover your ears, Florence): Bitches, let’s party!”

Willa Ruth Stone left the stage without so much as a glance at Florence. The applause didn’t diminish until she’d left the auditorium, slipping out a side door in a phalanx of friends and admirers. Florence was left by herself on the back of the stage.

Florence looked unhappy, but above all she looked tired.

Almost everyone was leaving, but several older women were striding toward a microphone near the foot of the stage. One of them was Florence’s old friend Vanessa. She looked furious. She planted her feet in front of the microphone and started to speak, but the sound had already been cut. She kept speaking for a long time. She didn’t realize that no one could hear her.



At home Florence rested, and then she worked on her book. She tried to pick up where she’d left off, with an account of a debate she’d had with the historian E.P. Thompson, a debate in which Florence had tried to open a genuine exchange of ideas about women and history, but without success, her efforts perpetually checked by Thompson’s pseudo-poetic bluster about the ghosts of utopia and the serpent of empire. But after a few paragraphs she found herself drifting further into the past, finally writing about a few childhood memories of her mother. They had no connection to anything she’d written about so far—she’d always intended to leave her childhood out of the story—but now she was filled with the desire to record things that no one else alive would know.

Normally, when she was working on a book, she didn’t ask herself to stick too closely to the plan. She liked to leave room to surprise herself; she liked to let herself wander off course. Today, she thought that if she let herself wander off course with this memoir, she might not live long enough to complete it. The thought left her shaken for a minute or two, but then she told herself that this is always the case: you never know if you’ll live long enough to complete anything.

Brian Morton is the author of four previous novels, including Starting Out in the Evening, and a contributing editor at Dissent. The scenes above were adapted from Florence Gordon by Brian Morton. Copyright © 2014 by Brian Morton. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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