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Florence Gordon Hardcover – September 23, 2014

3.9 out of 5 stars 203 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Finalist for the inaugural Kirkus Fiction Prize

Florence Gordon is one of those extraordinary novels that clarifies its readers' sense of things, rather than cozying up to our conventional pieties. Morton's ending is straight out of a Chekov story: It's up in the air and brave; a closing vision of a life in all its messy contradictions, just limping down the street.” -- Maureen Corrigan, NPR's Fresh Air

"What a treat it is to read Brian Morton's latest novel, populated with the prickly, civic-minded liberal intellectuals we've come to expect from him...self-aware and humorous...Morton doesn't insult us with cheesy, sentimental break-throughs, but he does offer this comfort — characters who are so believable you expect to run into them ordering from the deli counter at Zabar's." --NPR.org

"Angular and comic." --The New Yorker 

"Lovely...Mr. Morton crafts an ending that is partly sad, partly hopeful and, like life, inconclusive." --Wall Street Journal

“Florence is one feisty 75-year-old. A brilliant ‘feminist icon,’ she’s also a cranky pain the neck, forever resisting her family’s attempts to corral her. In this smart, funny and compassionate book, Morton brings the whole endearing bunch to life as they struggle with surprising events and get ambushed by unruly emotions. It’s a treat.” –Kim Hubbard, People Magazine

"Hilarious and addictive...[Morton] manages to be moving without ever being sappy, showing how people can affect each other deeply while remaining stubbornly — wonderfully — themselves." —San Francisco Chronicle

"It's such a cliché to say a book makes you laugh and cry, but this one does, in the deftest way. Morton is that rarest of birds: a dude who's really, truly a feminist. His characters live and breathe, and I still miss hanging out with them." --Emily Gould, Paste Magazine
"Morton is a quietly confident writer, who imbues even throwaway lines of dialogue with crackling wit, and whose characters banter like actors in a screwball comedy...Morton, without ever seeming to worry about it, is a terrific counterargument to those who claim that men can’t write believable female characters...With 'Florence Gordon,' Morton has written a heartfelt paean to a 'gloriously difficult woman.'" --Christian Science Monitor
"Morton treats the material with a light touch and a dry sense of humor...He is compassionate without being sentimental, even when his characters face life-changing challenges. His take on the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is particularly refreshing...Morton creates individuals, not types, and makes what could be a familiar story fresh." --The Columbus Dispatch
"That Brian Morton has made an engaging and appealing novel with this difficult septuagenarian at its heart is no small accomplishment...warm, funny and always deeply human...[Morton] develops characters worth knowing...Florence Gordon, for all her fine qualities, never ends up being lovable. But Brian Morton’s novel certainly is." --Buffalo News

"Morton has artfully constructed the novel." --Chicago Tribune

"Deliciously sharp and deeply sympathetic...[Morton] is one of the most unostentatiously intelligent novelists at work today...Morton proves that in the hands of a truly gifted novelist, as in real life, a person’s likability matters less than her sheer power of being." --Tablet Magazine

“[Morton] has consistently demonstrated a respect for the humanity of even his most flawed characters...Witty and sophisticated." --Haaretz

"Always a pleasure to read for his well-drawn characters, quiet insight and dialogue that crackles with wit, Morton here raises his own bar in all three areas." -- Kirkus, starred review

"Morton’s characters are sharply drawn, vivid in temperament and behavior, and his prose smartly reveals Florence’s strength and dignity." --Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Morton’s intelligent, layered portrait of a feisty, independent older woman is an absolute joy to read, not only for its delightful wit but also for its dignified appraisal of aging and living life on one’s own terms." --Booklist, starred review

"Morton (Starting Out in the Evening) has created an obstreperous, rebellious character who is likable for being true to herself." --Library Journal

“Combining a rigorous intellect and a deep humanity, this is the story of a feminist hero, a family coming together and apart, and the ways we interpret the past and attempt to face the future. Most of all, Florence Gordon shows how passion — of one type or the other — shapes a heart." —Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones

“Perceptive isn't a strong enough word to describe Brian Morton's insight into family dynamics; psychic is more like it. From the nuances of a long marriage to the inevitable, infinitely sad divisions and tender connections between grandparents and parents and children, Morton nails it all. And somehow he still manages to be funny, even as he breaks your heart.”—Emily Gould, author of Friendship

"Florence Gordon is a marvelous creation. Like many great characters in English literature, she is a sacred monster, fully realized and richly present in the pages of this thoroughly enjoyable book."—Vivian Gornick, author of Fierce Attachments and Approaching Eye Level

"A marvelously wise, compassionate, funny, rueful and altogether winning novel.  Brian Morton knows inside-out this tribe of witty, thoughtful people who, for all their decent values and good intentions, can't seem to narrow the unbridgeable distance between men and women, young and old,  pride and compromise, solitariness and community. Florence Gordon is his most generously ample, humane and vital book."—Phillip Lopate, author of To Show and To Tell and Against Joie de Vivre

"Florence Gordon is one of contemporary literature’s most wondrous characters: flawed and brilliant, funny and serious, totally unforgettable."—Darin Strauss, author of Chang and Eng and Half a Life

“Florence Gordon belongs on the very  short list of wonderful  novels about older women. Florence, the brilliant, cranky, solitude-craving feminist writer, is an indelible character, and her New York—the fading city of books and writers and melancholy oddballs —lives on in these immensely pleasurable pages.”—Katha Pollit, author of Learning to Drive: and Other Life Stories 

Book Description

HMH hardcover 2014, previous ISBN 978-0-544-30986-9
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (September 23, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544309863
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544309869
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (203 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Burian-Mohr TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Florence is a brilliant woman, an early feminist, a writer, a seasoned New Yorker, a thinker, a fiercely independent 75-year old woman, and, in the early pages of the book, declared a "national treasure." She's also cantankerous, dismissive, and blunt. Within the first few pages, she deliberately drops a friend's Blackerry into a pitcher on sangria, ditches her own surprise party, and calls her granddaughter by the wrong name.

All she really wants is to write and to be left alone.

That's not happening. Her daughter-in-law Janine, who idolizes her, has come to work on a psych fellowship. Son Daniel, a Seattle cop, is there to spend some time back in New York. And granddaughter Emily is there, doing her New York thing over summer vacation from Oberlin. They all expect to spend some time with Florence.

Florence is exactly the kind of woman you'd want for a friend and exactly the kind of woman you wouldn't want as a friend.

Example of Florence-You'd Want-as-a-Friend:

There's a huge line ta Duane Reade (a pharmacy, for we non-New Yorkers) and two cashiers. A tired-looking woman with a bottle of shampoo is about to step to the newly vacated register. A guy walks to the front of the line, cutting in front of probably 60 people, and starts to unload his basket in front of the open-mouthed cashier. Florence steps up to the plate.

"Can't you see there's a line here?" Florence said to him, pointing with her cane.

"There's two lines," he said, without even looking at her.

"Take another look."

"What's it to you?"

"You don't throw your trash on the street, you don't serve yourself first, and you don't cut in line. It's called civilization.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When I discovered that Brian Morton had published a new novel, I was thrilled. His STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING is one of the most skillfully crafted novels I've read, and I was hoping that FLORENCE GORDON would be just as impressive. Unfortunately, it is not. But that doesn't mean that it is a bad novel – it's not..

Morton is most talented in regard to creating characters, letting us into the complex and idiosyncratic thought processes which motivate their behavior, and revealing them through realistic dialogue. In FLORENCE GORDON, he does so with four characters:

FLORENCE – the 70+ bristly, assertive, "pain in the ass" feminist writer who is unexpectedly being heralded as a national treasure because of her contributions to feminism;
JANINE – her daughter-in-law, who is more preoccupied with a male colleague than her own husband;
DANIEL – her son, who harbors suspicions about his wife which he is unable to communicate;
EMILY – her college-age granddaughter, who helps her with her research, and wishes to become emotionally closer to her, despite the fact that Florence usually pushes people away. Emily is also struggling with her own relationships issues, and seeking to act with the firmness and directness of her grandmother.

Often, in just a few lines, Morton makes insightful statements about his characters which may resonate with personal experience of the reader as well as illuminate the character. For example, Daniel says of his father and mother: "Saul just has his career. So when his career is going badly – as far as he's concerned, everything in the universe sucks. Florence has always thought of herself as participating in something that will outlast her.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is a great example of good writing. It’s character-driven, and the characters are supremely well drawn. The New York City setting is handled so well that it could almost be considered another character. The writing is clear, interesting, and dramatic -- but that’s it.

There’s essentially no plot, no dramatic insight or denouement, and no conflict unless we count the conflict between the title character, Florence Gordon, and everyone she encounters. Florence is an old, cranky, self-important woman. She dislikes that people respect and defer to her mostly because she was in the vanguard of the feminist movement, but she makes a point of not giving anyone any other reason to care about her. She doesn’t care if people like her, and I didn’t. In addition to Florence, all of the characters are struggling with personal issues, from retirement to divorce, all of which remain unresolved.

I had to give 3 stars because despite what I saw as this book’s failings as a novel, Brian Morton’s writing is exceptionally strong. If you enjoy character sketches and would find that enough reason to read this book, I would highly recommend it. Otherwise, if you already struggle to keep your reading list under control, you might not want to give a slot to Florence Gordon.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Florence Gordon is 75, a truly independent (some would say rude and heartless) feminist icon, and a truly entertaining character (although you certainly wouldn't want her for a mother). The novel takes place as her son the cop, his wife and their teenaged daughter are staying in Manhattan for the summer, each in the middle of their own existential crisis, while Florence lives her life above the fray and the mess and the complications.

Florence is not likable but you do have to admire the overt self interest that propels and protects her. Also, she's a great comedic character, though not funny ha-ha. The rest of the characters are less impervious to fear and angst, and a benign narrator shifts between these four characters in roughly equal measure: Daniel the good son, stable husband, loving father; Janine, his wife, the uncertain, the needy, the reaching; and Emily, a young woman who wants to get to know her grandmother, and who is learning about feminism and being a woman. All of these characters are essential to the story.

This may sound like the setup for a touchy-feely mess of blossoming youth and middle-aged crisis and old age's redemption -- but it is not. In addition to great characters, the dialogue flows and the writing is masterful. The novel is also beautifully constructed, with short chapters that jump between the protagonists, sometimes immediately depicting the same scene from another perspective, sometimes containing just a single thought or moment. It's brilliant and accomplished and moving .... all in a good way, not the cheesy way. These human stories unfold even as greater themes develop, of connectedness and independence, love and truth. It sounds smarmily horrible put that way, but it is a true delight, with lots of humor and insight.
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