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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Cynthia Ozick

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To purchase Trust

Title: Trust
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Genre: Novel
Written: 1966
Length: 639 pages
Availability: Trust - US
Trust - UK
Trust - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B : enormous, feverish heap of a novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Commonweal . 2/12/1966 Martin Tucker
The New Republic . 13/8/1966 Martin Tucker
The NY Times Book Rev. A 17/7/1966 David L. Stevenson
Saturday Review . 9/7/1966 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Cynthia Ozick's Trust is that extraordinary literary entity, a first novel that is a genuine novel, wholly self-contained and produced by a rich, creative imagination, not an imitation of someone else's work or thinly disguised autobiography." - David L. Stevenson, The New York Times Book Review

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:

       Trust begins with the college graduation of the narrator, in what must be the mid-1950s. She is the daughter of Allegra Vand, who is far from an ideal mother. On her third man by now -- Enoch --, she can't even be bothered to attend the event. She only had the one child, and it's clear that was more a mistake than anything else. As she admits from the first in a letter to William, the lawyer whom she was very briefly married to before Enoch:

Enoch doesn't like the baby much, but I don't blame him, neither do I. You always wanted a baby and I don't see why. This one isn't very good-looking so far, I suppose they get better as they go along.
       Very wealthy, Allegra is free to live in her own world, and she certainly does. William's -- the patrician lawyer lifestyle, with large family in the suburbs -- might have seemed the one for her, but she quickly realised that was a mistake (without ever entirely letting go of him). Enoch, involved in government work (some of it quite ugly), and now up for an ambassadorship, turns out to be the right sort of companion for her, allowing her to do pretty much as she pleases but still having a strong bond with her.
       Allegra's brief claim to fame was in her days of Communist rebellion ("I was a Party member"), and specifically her unlikely success with a novel, Marianna Harlow. A terrible book she dashed off, it became a tremendous success, it's popularity still lingering in some parts of the world: "they read her in the high schools. She's the Soviet Uncle Tom's Cabin".
       But Allegra's real big mistake, the one that continues to cost her, was a youthful misstep that resulted in the birth of her only child. The father was a shadowy free spirit named Gustave Nicholas Tilbeck, about whom the child -- and then young woman -- knows almost nothing. Allegra keeps the information from her daughter -- not so much protecting the girl as herself (and Enoch). But after the narrator's graduation Tilbeck becomes unavoidable -- she wants to know about him, and he also wants something. With Enoch up for the ambassadorship -- it's as good as his, as long as certain facts don't come to light ... -- Allegra has to try to manipulate the situation until he's been appointed.
       Trust is a sort of family saga -- though this is less a dysfunctional than skeletal family, everyone the narrator turns to treating her, at best, as some sort of distant relation. The action is concentrated around the events following the narrator's graduation, culminating in her finding her father, but there is also a long section describing her childhood experiences in Europe just after the war, when she was dragged along (entirely inappropriately) by her mother and Enoch, as well as the pieced-together past of her mother, slowly emerging.
       The narrator comes to understand some of her mother's secrets, uncovering layers of her life and the one big secret she's been hiding (with William's help) all along. The step-fathers in her life, William and Enoch, and their work, as well as William's family -- the life that could have been the narrator's, if Allegra had stuck with him -- also play significant roles, each not entirely what they seem.
       It's an odd, enormous house of cards built on lies (or at least hushed-up and withheld information) and strong personalities (Tilbeck, when he turns up, is no less powerful a personality than Allegra). The narrator remains surprisingly blasé about much of it. Along the way there are odd, unlikely adventures and events, from the experiences of the girl in war-torn Europe to the Quaker family of a paleontologist camping out on Tilbeck's island before heading to Pakistan.
       Trust is certainly not predictable, but it is hard to digest, a slab of a novel that wallows in dialogue and the narrator's take on what often need not be taken. It's not really overwritten, but the writing has an odd and ultimately forced polished feel to it, abounding in over-explained observations and insights that might be better left for the reader to reach him or herself. The imitation ... Austen ? Tolstoy ? James ? gets to be a bit much:
All of youth is beauty if one defines beauty as that which precedes blemish: but blemish is character, and a pretty brow without the scars of character signifies only youth, and not proper beauty, which is banded with marks and acts.
       Indeed, the whole novel is a bit much -- and yet it is not without appeal. Allegra is an amusing, driven character, her antics (and those of some of the other characters) well-imagined. There is power to the personal dynamics: the narrator's relationships with her mother, her father-figures, a nanny, and William's son in particular are compelling. And many of the scenes and dialogue are quite striking (though generally they don't go anywhere fast enough).
       It is too unwieldy a novel, straying about somewhat loosely (feeling like what is left behind from a longer manuscript, pared down to manageable size). It requires patience: it is a big, ambitious novel and not a fast read. Unfortunately, what might have been gripping enough to hold a reader in the 19th or early 20th century probably isn't any longer in these quick-paced times.
       Not bad at all, but hard to recommend.

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Trust: Reviews: Cynthia Ozick: Other books by Cynthia Ozick under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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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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