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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Puttermesser Papers

Cynthia Ozick

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To purchase The Puttermesser Papers

Title: The Puttermesser Papers
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997
Length: 236 pages
Availability: The Puttermesser Papers - US
The Puttermesser Papers - UK
The Puttermesser Papers - Canada
Les papiers de Puttermesser - France
Puttermesser und ihr Golem - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

A+ : superb, in every respect

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Phoenix A 6/1997 Elizabeth Manus
Chicago Tribune A 20/7/1997 Jill Laurie Goodman
Entertainment Weekly A 18/7/1997 Megan Harlan
The Guardian A 4/9/1999 James Hopkin
The Guardian A+ 21/8/1997 Carol Shields
Independent on Sunday . 29/12/2013 Leyla Sanai
The LA Times A- 15/6/1997 Richard Eder
Le Monde . 9/3/2007 Samuel Blumenfeld
The NY Times A- 11/6/1997 Richard Bernstein
The NY Times Book Rev. A 15/6/1997 Jack Miles
The New Yorker . 15/12/1997 .
Partisan Review B+ Winter/1998 Millicent Bell
Publishers Weekly A 21/4/1997 .
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction A- Summer/1998 J.C. van Ryzin
Salon A 3/6/1997 Joan Smith
San Francisco Chronicle A 25/5/1997 Michael Upchurch
The Spectator A- 19/6/1999 Anita Brookner
The Times A 1/7/1999 .
TLS A 16/7/1999 Ilan Stavans
The Village Voice A 15/7/1997 Julie Phillips
Wall St. Journal . 20/6/1997 Merle Rubin
World Lit. Today . Winter/1998 Bernard F. Dick

  Review Consensus:

  Excellent in all respects, some mild criticism regarding the playfulness of the stories.

  From the Reviews:
  • "(M)arvelous, moving" - Megan Harlan, Entertainment Weekly

  • "This book, with its waves of rapturous invention, presents a saddened vision of the world that yet leaves the reader in a trance of happiness. And with the lingering thought: if only I could write a book this good." - Carol Shields, The Guardian

  • "(H)er irony does not scold or upbraid, nor does it declare its ingenuity at another's expense." - James Hopkin, The Guardian

  • "The Puttermesser Papers is an immensely enjoyable novel if suspension of reality is not a problem. The writing is quick, satirical and funny, and Ozick’s insights and light-handed critiques of a society that prizes material goods over lives are a joy." - Leyla Sanai, Independent on Sunday

  • "It is lovely and haunting, formidably witty and, once in a while, silly or clumsy. Silliness and clumsiness perhaps are Ozick's way of being unarmed, her intellectual fire notwithstanding." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Très peu de romanciers américains sont parvenus à intégrer avec autant de maturité et d'intelligence que Cynthia Ozick la tradition juive dans leur fiction. Le judaïsme brouille sans cesse la dualité entre le rationnel et l'irrationnel. (...) Il faut remonter pour cela aux grands romans d'Isaac Singer pour retrouver une telle symbiose." - Samuel Blumenfeld, Le Monde

  • "The Puttermesser Papers is a strange little book, a slender monument to a vision that is stark and unsparing but at the same time so intelligent, so finely expressed, that, like its main character, it remains endearing, edifying, a spark of light in the gloom." - Richard Bernstein, The New York Times

  • "The Puttermesser Papers is a crazy delight." - Jack Miles, The New York Times Book Review

  • "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 Weekly

  • "Astonishingly, there is little in The Puttermesser Papers to betray its 20-year gestation period. Whimsy, satire and tart sympathy are kept in nimble balance throughout the book, and even if Puttermesser's life defies the laws of logic, it has all the buoyant integrity of a Chagall painting." - Michael Upchurch, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "There is more matter here than in a dozen novels, though not the sort of novels Puttermesser reads. Only the chirrup at the end of The Puttermesser Papers is misplaced. What precedes it is quite wonderful." - Anita Brookner, The Spectator

  • "In The Puttermesser Papers Ozick has combined her formidable erudition with her sly wit to produce a fabulous novel. Fabulous, particularly, in the original sense of the word: it is a modern fable, a satire that shows how it ought to be done." - The Times

  • "Each of the stories (...) feels ripe, focused, sedulously distilled. Together, they serve as a box of resonance of Ozick's oeuvre in general and highlight her affinities: Henry James, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Gershom Scholem, rabbinical thought, Greek mythology." - Ilan Stavans, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Cynthia Ozick's creation, Ruth Puttermesser, is familiar from The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Salmagundi, as well as a previous collection of her stories, Levitation. The five stories (or episodes) that make up this novel have all appeared, generally in the same form, in the pages of those magazines and that book. After nearly twenty years of preoccupation with Ms. Puttermesser Ozick has collected the tales and called it a novel. Their familiarity, read piecemeal over the years, does nothing to diminish the accomplishment -- but we envy those that come to the book having never read about Ruth.
       Ozick has always been an almost impeccable stylist, and in The Puttermesser Papers there is nary a wasted word. Ozick is word and pitch-perfect in presenting the tale of her lawyer in this unusual fiction. The episodes sound banal and hackneyed if summarized (Puttermesser creates a golem and becomes mayor of New York, Puttermesser in paradise, Puttermesser and the Russian émigré ...), but Ozick's precise prose makes each line magical.
       Puttermesser is, to date, her finest sustained invention. The stories -- inventive, fantastic, wry, clever -- are perfect pieces, and they fit together well in this whole we are now offered. Not all of Ozick's topics are of great interest to us (we are indifferent to the religious (in this case Jewish) preoccupation, in particular), but Ozick weaves all her concerns together so well -- and expresses herself and tells her story so well -- that we follow her character eagerly.
       A masterly novel that we recommend without reservation to one and all.

       Finally available in the UK (July, 1999), The Puttermesser Papers is particularly recommended to the lucky British readers who have not come across the character previously in the American magazines in which she has appeared.

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The Puttermesser Papers: Reviews: Cynthia Ozick: Other books by Cynthia Ozick under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Cynthia Ozick is the author of numerous works of fiction, as well as several collections of essays. She has been awarded a number of prizes and honors, and she has received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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© 1999-2021 the complete review

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