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The Puttermesser Papers: A Novel

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2002

    Surreal and Picaresque

    Although The Puttermesser Papers is billed as a novel, it is not a novel in the traditional sense but rather five short works of fiction, each of which could stand alone. Each 'story' gives us insight into the life of Ruth Puttermesser, student, idealist and lover of the law. These fictions illuminates various stages of Puttermesser's life, about a decade apart, and beginning when Puttermesser is thirty-four. Although we come to realize in the first story that this will constitute a biography of sorts, it is a very different biography in that the facts seem, more often than not, to contradict themselves. Identity, in Puttermesser's world, is something very elusive and suspect. For example, we witness a conversation between Puttermesser and her Uncle Zindel only to later learn that the conversation really did not occur. This is a surrealistic book and we learn to accommodate its contradictions. In fact, after a time, they even become rather comforting rather than disorienting. Life, after all, is full of contradictions and Ozick wisely challenges the very idea that one's life story can be set in stone and fully told. What is consciousness and what is below the surface, she seems to be asking. Is life more accurately represented by external or internal experience? Ozick shows us Ruth Puttermesser's life from both the external and the internal viewpoint and she also leaves a good many gaps in between. One thing, though, is abundantly clear: Puttermesser's life as a lawyer in the New York City Department of Receipts and Disbursements is, internally, far richer than it is externally. We first encounter the eternally unattractive Ruth Puttermesser in bed, engaged in the study of the Hebrew grammar she loves so much and eating the fudgy sweets to which she seems addicted. In fact, the only thing more enticing for Puttermesser than a night of Hebrew grammar and fudge seems to be the idea of paradise, a paradise in which she envisions herself voraciously reading anything and everything she somehow managed to miss while on earth. While waiting on paradise, however, Puttermesser must endure the day-to-day bureaucracy of city government. This is a bleak existence, but one in which Puttermesser dreams of ideals like merit and justice for all. As an independent candidate from the Independents for Socratic and Prophetic Justice party, Puttermesser dreams of running for mayor and transforming New York into a place where youth gangs wash cars for fun, where slum dwellers suddenly transform their own dwellings out of a sense of pride and nothing else and pimps decide it's high time they learn some computer skills. In short, Puttermesser dreams of transforming New York into a place that is simply not New York. In a section entitled Puttermesser Paired, the heroine develops and idealized friendship with a younger man in which she confirms her belief that the brain is the seat of the emotions. The man, a reproduction painter, does little more than read with Puttermesser, something that fascinates them both, and their relationship is the very embodiment of George Eliot's romantic life. The final section, Puttermesser in Paradise, is a Mobius strip and suggests that the written word is tantamount to life, itself. This is a picaresque and surreal book and one that is highly entertaining if not completely fulfilling. Sadly, I think it will appeal to only a very limited audience.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2000



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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2009

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