In her typically audacious new novel, Heir to the Glimmering World, Cynthia Ozick braids at least three and probably four ghostly glimmers and ''phantom eels'' of thought into a single luminous lariat -- or maybe a hangman's noose. Anything goes when she's making things up. While the Second Commandment on graven images presides over her fiercely prescriptive essays (four idol-smashing volumes of them since ''Art & Ardor'' in 1983), Ozick's fiction is shamanistic, almost wanton (five completely different novels, three dazzling collections of stories plus a Shawl since 1966). However much she always insists on ''a certain corona of moral purpose'' for fiction that wants to be better than journalism, she can't help dancing in the air like Feingold in Levitation, like Chagall with the cows, or Flannery O'Connor.
The New York Times
In 1933, the Mitwissers, a family of German Jews, arrive in America after a narrow and eccentric escape from Berlin. (Forced to hide for a week before they could flee, they circled the city in a rented limousine, wearing their finest clothes and assuming a regal air at hotels where they slipped in to use the bathroom.) After landing somewhat haphazardly in New York, they place an ad for help in a local paper. The only applicant for the job is an eighteen-year-old orphan, Rose Meadows, who narrates the story, and who observes the Mitwissers with the dry neutrality of an invisible servant. Her duties are vaguely defined—part nanny, part secretary—and her salary comes intermittently, the family’s sole source of income being the whimsy of a troubled benefactor. Ozick portrays this ramshackle household to dazzling effect, as it adjusts to its many states of exile—from a sense of security, from cherished ideas, and from the consolations of each other.
Valéry said that a work of art should always teach us that we have not seen what we see. That is a part of what young Rose Meadows comes to know as she emerges from the Mitwissers' life into her own. Living as we all do among unwise folk, nonetheless she also has lived for a time, and lived vividly, in a wise, quietly magical book. As have we readers.
The Washington Post
Ozick's previous novel, The Puttermesser Papers, revolved around one quirky hero; this time around, Ozick incubates several. Characters, not plot, drive this Depression-era tale, and Ozick eviscerates each one through her narrator, Rose Meadows, a resolute 18-year-old orphan. Virtually abandoned, Rose wanders into a job with the Mitwisser family, German refugees in New York City. Filling gaping holes in their household, she becomes a research assistant to the father, a professor stubbornly engaged in German and Hebrew arcana; a nurse to his oft-deranged, sequestered wife; and nanny to their five children. As she penetrates the fog surrounding their history, Rose limns their roiling inner lives with exasperated perception. Mrs. Mitwisser especially chafes against the family's precarious, degrading status as "parasites," erratically supported by the unbalanced millionaire son and heir of an author of popular children's books who is fascinated by Mr. Mitwisser's research. With her trademark lyrical prose, gentle humor and vivid imagery, Ozick paints a textured portrait of outsiders rendered powerless, retreating into tightly coiled existences of scholarly rapture, guarded brazenness and even calculated lunacy all as a means of refuting the bleakness of a harsh, chaotic world. Erudite exposition is packed into the book, so that character study and discourse occasionally grind the plot to a halt. Edifying and evocative, if often daunting, this is a concentrated slice of eccentric life. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (Sept. 1) Forecast: This is Ozick's first book for Houghton Mifflin, and the publisher is backing it with a seven-city author tour. Despite its rigors, it may be an easier sell than The Puttermesser Papers; the family drama makes it more accessible. Foreign rights sold in Brazil, France, Italy, Norway and Spain. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Though known mainly for short stories distinguished by graceful language, Ozick here demonstrates her facility as a novelist, successfully mixing themes of faith, identity, and art into a crazy salad of a plot set in New York City during the Great Depression. When shy 18-year-old orphan Rose Meadows becomes secretary-factotum to Professor Rudolf Mitwisser, she finds herself in unstable surroundings. Obsessed with his researches into a radical Jewish sect, Mitwisser can't cope with the problems that he and his large, unruly family are facing as recent arrivals to the United States after fleeing the Nazis. The seven dysfunctional refugees, accustomed to luxury in Berlin, are now dependent on their sponsor, young millionaire James A'bair. Though generous, A'bair is neurotic and unreliable, having been emotionally unsettled by his childhood fame as the "Bear Boy" in his father's series of best-selling children's books. When James learns that Rose has inherited a first edition of the original story, complications abound, and Rose must face down family chaos to become her own woman. This witty book will appeal to admirers of the fanciful tales in Ozick's Puttermesser Papers and to readers seeking well-written novels with intellectual depth. Recommended for most collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/04.]-Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.