01 August 2010

The Puttermesser Papers, by Cynthia Ozick

I think I heard about this book around the time it came out, or maybe I've picked it up in bookstores before, but I had a vague sense that it was good but not that good. I saw it at a bookswap awhile ago and grabbed it with a feeling of "well, it's about time". I dunno. Anyhow, my vague sense, wherever it came from, turned out to be mostly right. The book is a collection of 5 or so novellas, as it were, centering around the same character. The first one is fantastic, and then they start petering out. If you really want to harp on the book, you might note that the central character doesn't really seem consistent throughout. But really, the thing to do with this book is to read the Puttermesser and Xanthippe episode and skip the rest.

Puttermesser and Xanthippe tells the story of how Puttermesser created a golem and took over New York. It's wonderful, whimsical but not frivolous, with lovable characters and a wonderful dry humor. Ozick has a very enjoyable style, but this novella shows it to the best advantage, because it has the most compelling content. The other ones kind of try to skate by on the strength of the characters, and they're just not as good. Her romance (Puttermesser Paired) is initially kind of touching but rapidly becomes both grating and pathetic, her family troubles (the Muscovite cousin) feel obsolete (Soviet humor is just... not that funny anymore? I dunno.), and her demise and afterlife are just stupid.

Still, for a book acquired at a bookswap, I'm pretty happy with it.

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