THE PUTTERMESSER PAPERS

From the author of The Messiah of Stockholm (1987), and other highly praised novels, a gathering of previously published stories and their newer counterparts, comprising a fictional biography of the remarkable character whom it's tempting to proclaim Ozick's alter ego. Ruth Puttermesser, who first appeared in 1981's Levitation: Five Fictions, is a formidably learned polymath deeply rooted in the world of literary culture (she idolizes George Eliot, and has read the entire Faerie Queene) and that encompassing her more mundane duties as attorney for New York City's Department of Receipts and Disbursements ("Her heart beat for law, even for tax law"). Puttermesser rises to the post of First Bursary Officer but is abruptly demoted, then terminated, by an upstart colleague. When her frustrated love life and yearnings for motherhood overstimulate her imagination, Puttermesser unintentionally wills into being a golem (named Xanthippe, after Socrates's shrewish wife), a creature that serves her impeccably, even orchestrating her initially successful tenure as New York's Mayor—until the golem, like her human creator, succumbs to the madness of love and must be destroyed. This literally surreal sequence is followed by Puttermesser's star-crossed liaison with a younger man (who, she fantasizes, will play the twentysomething J.W. Cross to her aging George Eliot), then by a rather muted account of her sponsorship of her Russian cousin Lidia ("a perfected Soviet avatar"). Finally, Ozick portrays "Puttermesser in Paradise," where, after being murdered and raped (in that order), she experiences the fulfillment denied her in life: marriage to the older lover who had long ago abandoned her, and the birth of her child. Despite its slapdash structure and inevitable narrative lacunae, this is one of Ozick's most appealing books: a witty, precisely written, enjoyably sympathetic depiction of a worldly woman who's also a hopeful romantic—a thinker who learns that "it was possible for brains to break the heart" and that it's also possible to muddle through, and maybe even endure.

Pub Date: June 12, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-45476-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1997

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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