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The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick - Book Review


The Puttermesser Papers
Cynthia Ozick

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

Ruth Puttermesser lives in New York. Her learning is monumental, her love life is minimal and her most idle fantasies have a disconcerting tendency to come true. She yearns for a daughter and promptly creates one, unassisted, in the form of the first recorded female golem. She also manages to get herself elected mayor. Puttermesser contemplates the afterlife and is hurtled into it headlong, only to discover that paradise found is also paradise lost.

We Say

I loved Cynthia Ozick's short story The Shawl, so it was with much anticipation that I picked up her novel, The Puttermesser Papers. Ozick is a consummate storyteller whose unique storylines and characters have opened her readers' eyes to whole new worlds.

In Ozick's novel, Ruth Puttermesser is an intellectual who seems to spend her life searching. Unlike other women concerned with what Puttermesser would consider the mundane, Ruth is concerned with intellectual pursuits and it can be said that she lacks friends due to her intimidating intelligence. Ruth is a woman obsessed with knowledge over more materialistic and social pursuits. Cynthia Ozick's command of the written word is impressive to say the least and it is here that I found the only problem with this book.

While the story is fascinating and Puttermesser is unlike any character I have previously encountered, at times The Puttermesser Papers overwhelmed me. Like the countless others who have met Ruth, I felt inadequate to share her story. Cynthia Ozick's writing is so complex I often felt that I was viewing Puttermesser's life through a dream. I could only catch glimpses of what it was that the author wanted me to see. Perhaps it was Ozick's intention to create a book of such quality that it must be read more than once to understand all of the nuances but regardless of her intent, I found reading The Puttermesser Papers to be a challenge.

The Puttermesser Papers is filled with a female golem, an ideal New York City and an unusual love affair. I must admit, the novel held my attention but I felt I was missing so much. It is the type of book that you know is fantastic but somehow, without discussion and interpretation, you feel left out of the loop. In many ways, I felt I had to work hard to understand what was going on and at times, I realised I was completely lost in the flow of the words. Cynthia Ozick is very skillful at weaving passages that just flow.

Overall, I would recommend reading The Puttermesser Papers only if you are looking for a challenging read. Perhaps it is my own feelings of inadequacy, not unlike Ruth Puttermesser's feeling of inadequacy when faced with intelligent men, that is the most honest reaction to such a novel.

Review by: Yumi Nagasaki-Taylor

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