With dashing originality and in prose that sings like an entire choir of sirens, Cynthia Ozick relates the life and times of her most compelling fictional creation. Ruth Puttermesser lives in New York City. Her learning is monumental. Her love life is minimal (she prefers pouring through Plato to romping with married Morris Rappoport). And her fantasies have a disconcerting tendency to come true - with disastrous consequences for what we laughably call "reality."
Puttermesser yearns for a daughter and promptly creates one, unassisted, in the form of the first recorded female golem. Laboring in the dusty crevices of the civil service, she dreams of reforming the city - and manages to get herself elected mayor. Puttermesser contemplates the afterlife and is hurtled into it headlong, only to discover that a paradise found is also paradise lost. Overflowing with ideas, lambent with wit, The Puttermesser Papers is a tour de force by one of our most visionary novelists.
"The finest achievement of Ozick's career... It has all the buoyant integrity of a Chagall painting." -San Francisco Chronicle "Fanciful, poignant... so intelligent, so finely expressed that, like its main character, it remains endearing, edifying, a spark of light in the gloom." -The New York Times "A crazy delight." -The New York Time Book Review
Cynthia Ozick, a recipient of a Lannan Award for fiction and a National Book Critics Circle winner for essays, is the author of Trust, The Messiah of Stockholm, The Shawl, and The Puttermesser Papers. She lives in New York.
The Puttermesser Papers 4 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
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.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
RUTH PUTTERMESSER APPEARS TO REPRESENT LONELY, INTELECTUAL WHO WAS UNABLE TO EXPERIENCE DELIGHT AND SATISFACTION IN THE HERE AND NOW. HER INTELLECT BECAME A SCREEN THAT PREVENTED HER FROM LIVING IN THE REAL WORLD, AND THE DEEP EMOTIONAL FEELINGS THAT MAKE LIFE INTERESTING AND FULFILLING.
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