Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Puttermesser Papers

The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick was originally published in 1997. My paperback copy is 236 pages. First, this is not a novel. It is a collection of sharp and witty short stories featuring the character Ruth Puttermesser. Ozick has a unique style of writing which can be enjoyable, but the stories themselves tend to be rather depressing. Normally I'm not a great fan of short stories and I found several of these difficult to slog through. This is one of those collections that you need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy. Apparently I wasn't there. If I were to rate this compilation as a whole right now, it would receive a so-so rating of 2, although some parts were brilliant and could receive a 4.5. Because of this, it's best to not rate The Puttermesser Papers.

Fans of Cynthia Ozick are likely already familiar with Ruth Puttermesser, whose highly educated, unlucky-in-love but rather mystical existence as a Jewish woman in New York City has been chronicled in previously published stories appearing occasionally through the years. The Puttermesser Papers collects the old stories, along with several new ones, combined to create a funny and surreal picaresque narrative, touching upon Puttermesser's job at a blueblood law firm, her creation and intellectual sparring with the golem she makes out of soil from her flowerpots, her term as mayor of New York, her own death by murder, and beyond.


"It was not that she intended to remember everything: situations - it was her tendency to call intellectual problems 'situations' - slipped into her mind like butter into a bottle." pg. 4

"There, at any rate, Puttermesser would sit, in Eden, under a middle-sized tree....And there Puttermesser would, as she imagined it, take in. Ready to her left hand, the box of fudge....; ready to her right hand, a borrowed steeple of library books: for into Eden the Crotona Park Branch has ascended intact, sans librarians and fines, but with its delectable terrestrial binding-glue fragrances unevaporated." pg. 13

"She lived now surrounded by auditors - literal-minded men." pg. 35

"People get stuck. Brains are no guarantee. Hope is slim." pg. 107

"You could feel it under your soles right through the carpeting. The building was a nervous organism; its familiar soughings ricocheted from cranny to cranny." pg. 110

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