Discussion: First Wednesday, June 7 2:00pm

The Puttermesser Papers: A Novel

Cynthia Ozick


In the world of Ozick’s novels, nothing happens by chance. Ruth  Puttermesser, 34 when this book begins, is aptly named, for puttermesser  means butterknife, a word that indicates the contradictory sides of her  nature. Puttermesser is a lawyer by training, yet ethical to her bones; an  idealist and visionary, yet a cynic and pragmatist. She is a lover of classic  literature and civility who can dismiss a stupid comment with the best New  York sass; a rationalist seduced by her own imagination; a woman too wise  to be surprised by the dark corners of human nature, who is nonetheless  betrayed time and again by her own desires. In a droll, effortlessly erudite  fable that mixes brilliant fantasy and the gritty details of urban life, Ozick  follows her protagonist through decades of aspiration, achievement, failure,  hope, death–and its aftermath. The story encompasses the themes of  power and the lack thereof, the high aspirations of art versus the realities of  existence, the vanquishing of ethics by the persistent presence of greed  and selfishness, the condition of Paradise, the essential puzzle of  existence–all the while conveying mordant observations about  contemporary culture. Unjustly fired from her civil service job, Puttermesser  constructs a golem who helps her become mayor of New York on a reform  ticket; falls from grace into limbo; is duped in love by a superb copyist who  plays on Puttermesser’s love of George Sand; is duped again by family  loyalty when she attempts to help a Russian emigree; and endures the final  irony at the point of a knife blade. Playfully employing the nuances of  language to amuse, instruct and astonish the reader, Ozick has created a  witty, intelligent and intensely imagined narrative that will stand among her  best work. — publishers

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