ART AND ARDOR

ESSAYS

This new collection of essays by novelist Ozick offers a staggering array of fierce attractions: a style that combines light grace, virility, and profundity; literary analysis of measured brilliance; a lack of all timidity in asserting difficult beliefs; and—most specifically—her stiff-necked, powerful notion of Jewish covenantal "ardor." Ozick begins, however, with Edith Wharton, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Truman Capote—coming away from each one with something hard-won and unexpected: Woolf's madness is seen as an opportunity to provide moment for the Jewish seriousness of husband (and assumed saint) Leonard; Forster's homosexual shame, not pride, is revealed in Maurice; Capote's work becomes the foremost example of the novel "that is fragrant with narcissism, that claims essence sans existence, that either will not get its shoes drekky or else elevates drek to cultishness—the novel, in short, of the esthetic will—[which] cannot survive its cult." And though each of these essays illuminates a very complex flaw or failure, how they fit in with Ozick's unique view of Art only becomes clear when she moves on to more particularly Jewish subjects: Harold Bloom, Harris' The Goy, Up-dike's Bech, and the oddly Christian formulations of Allen Ginsberg. As a Jew, it soon emerges, Ozick is concerned with the "sacral," the novel of Deed instead of sensibility, the non-transcandent. Thus, in her vision, Jewish artists and thinkers who deny—or fudge with—the Second Commandment against idol-worship ("Art," for Ozick, is the equivalent of idol-making) only commit a multiplied and vitiating illusion: "The problem of Diaspora in its most crucial essence is the problem of esthetics. . . . The religion of Art isolates the Jew—only the Jew is indifferent to esthetics, only the Jew wants to 'passionately wallow in the human reality'. . . The Jewish writer, if he intends himself really to be a Jewish writer, is all alone, judging culture like mad, while the rest of culture just goes on being culture." And this provocative mixture of approaches—the covenantal, the critical, the anti-idolatrous—is then given its most vigorous stir in "Towards a New Yiddish," a controversial essay which rejects for Jewish writers an ecumenical, widened-out art, recommending in its place a "liturgical novel" that speaks directly only to other Jews. ("Not. . . didactic or prescriptive: on the contrary: Aggadic, utterly freed to invention, discourse, parable, experiment, enlightenment, profundity, humanity.") Hard to swallow? It is indeed. But Ozick knows how difficult her ideas are: a remarkable essay on "Literary Blacks and Jews" sings out with the tension of voluntary reghettoization; she realizes that to again shtetl-ize Jewish literary culture means giving up either enormous gains or enormous illusions. And the result is a book that recognizes opposing ideas without evasion or surrender—with an unashamed yet astonishingly sophisticated zealotry that seems to invite dissent on its own level (unlike the antipodal, curatorially expert views of Susan Sontag). In sum: a discomforting challenge—to Jews, to writers, to Jewish writers, to anyone concerned with "culture"—and a masterful, significant book.

Pub Date: May 17, 1983

ISBN: 0525481176

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983

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THE PRINCE OF TIDES

A NOVEL

A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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