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THE PUTTERMESSER PAPERS by Cynthia Ozick Kirkus Star


by Cynthia Ozick

Pub Date: June 12th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45476-4
Publisher: Knopf

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.