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Quarrel & Quandary: Essays Paperback – November 13, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

"True essayists," declares Cynthia Ozick, "rarely write novels." This pronouncement would seem to overlook a horde of ambidextrous types, from John Updike to Gore Vidal to Charles Baxter to Joyce Carol Oates--and, of course, Ozick herself. The author of three novels, she is also among our finest essayists, combining a Jamesian nose for moral nuance with some of the most playful and pugnacious prose in contemporary letters. And her fourth collection, Quarrel & Quandary, contains some of her very best work. There are ardent considerations of particular authors, including W.G. Sebald, Franz Kafka, and Swedish modern Goran Tunstrom. But this time around, the author is even more intent on exploring the rhetorical minefield where art and politics overlap. Her introduction, in fact, is one long riff on the importance of being earnestly engagé, at the end of which Ozick manages to have her cake and eat it too: "Two cheers, then--when there is no choice--for being engagé; but three cheers and more for that other bravery, the literary essay, and for memory's mooning and maundering, and for losing one's way in the bliss of American prose...."

In three provocative pieces ("The Rights of History and the Rights of the Imagination," "The Posthumous Sublime," and "Who Owns Anne Frank?"), Ozick suggests that the Holocaust is almost--but not quite--impervious to literature. She's particularly angered by the morphing of Frank's diary into a mother lode of Broadway-style uplift, a transformation that "tampers with history, with reality, with deadly truth." Elsewhere, though, Ozick is less polemical, more willing to be dazzled by Roethke's radiance or Henry James's epistemological high beams. And it's not only specific artists but entire genres that win her awed and eloquent approval:

When we say that poetry is strange, we mean not that it is less than intelligible, but exactly the opposite: poetry is intelligibility heightened, strengthened, distilled to the point of astounding us; and also made manifold. Metaphor is intelligibility's great imperative, its engine of radical amazement.
At its best, Ozick's prose is equally, radically amazing. She may not always compel our agreement--the scolding she administers to W.G. Sebald, whom she clearly admires, is something of a puzzler--but her voice never ceases to register distinction and detail, emitting what she calls "the hum of perpetual noticing." Five cheers, then, for Quarrel & Quandary. And by the way, might Mooning & Maundering be a candidate for the author's next alliterative title? --James Marcus --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

H Novelist and literary critic Ozick (The Puttermesser Papers; Metaphor and Memory; etc.) again proves herself to be a daunting intellectual who writes with both grace and conviction. This collection of 19 previously published essays (in venues like the New Republic and Commentary) highlights the reasons for her status as one of America's leading literary figures. In "Dostoyevsky's Unabomber" she demonstrates her ability to uncover similarities across wide contextual gulfs by likening Theodore Kaczynski, "a calculating social reasoner and messianic utopian," to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. In "The Impious Impatience of Job" she calls upon her substantial knowledge of the Bible to rethink an oft-discussed tale. "How I Got Fired from My Summer Job" is a personal memoir about misplacement as a typist in an accounting firm upon completion of graduate school in literature. All in all, Ozick covers an almost unbelievable range of subjectsDfrom lovesickness to cinematic adaptations of Henry James's novels to the merits and beauty of a simple kitchen ladle. She also returns, fiercely, to the HolocaustDboth explicitly in"Who Owns Anne Frank?" and implicitly in"She: Portrait of the Essay as a Warm Body"Dand other themes that she's explored previously. Ozick writes that Frank "was born to be a writer," that her "presence" is "thick rather than thin"; the same could be said of Ozick herselfDshe brings a novelist's fresh, frank eye to matters others might overlook and demonstrates a heightened consciousness of her own methods as a writer and public figure. And though she confesses a resistance to the political, she in fact succeeds in redefining the notion of the political through these fine essays, making it something subtle and deeply transformative. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (November 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375724451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375724459
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #167,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Brendan M. Wolfe on November 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Noted essayist Cynthia Ozick begins her new, alliterative collection with a nearly heretical thought in this kinetic cyber-age: "Journalism is a necessity, but it is not a permanence. When I hear someone (seventy-plus or twenty-something) utter 'my generation,' I know I am in the vicinity of a light mind." Rest assured that should you choose to pick up Quarrel & Quandary, you will not be in the vicinity of a light mind. Rather, Ozick embarks, as all essayists must, on a journey of attempted understanding. She fiddles with Crime and Punishment in the context of the Unabomber. She wonders if the world wouldn't be better without Anne Frank's diary. She questions the rights of historical novelists and wrestles, as always, with the Holocaust. Her essays are sometimes obscure, often politically incorrect, sometimes personal and even humorous. But they are always intelligent and written in sparkling, near perfect prose.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By "jfallahay" on March 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I admit it; I am not a reader of essays. Normally I shun them as much as I would recoil from an invite to go see a big screen remake of "Charlie's Angels." The thought of either would make me shudder. As to the former, perhaps I had my fill of Kant in college, or maybe reading "Gorgias" finally put me over some particular intellectual edge that I've yet to recover from twenty years later. Whatever the cause, I've spent very little time with pedantic or polemical prose since. So what it was that made me pick up "Quarrel and Quandary" is still beyond my ken, especially because I have never read any of Ozick's fiction. That said, it's satisfying to report that there is some life left in the old essay form yet, at least as practiced by Ms. Ozick. The Three Screens, as she calls them--TV, cinema, and computer--have not completely made moot the challenge of good writing or intricate analysis, and these Ozick patently demonstrates. You may not turn these pages at accelerated rates, hanging on every word, but you may just as easily marvel at her gifted turn of phrase, not to mention nuance of thought, as you would any plot by the latest faddish producer of pot-boilers. One thing you'll have to admit when you read this collection is that Ms. Ozick has an active mind on her shoulders, and she has the specific skill of being able to plausibly place on the page the arguments she has constructed in her head. You'll also notice that she has the uncanny ability to link diverse subjects. In a universe that is haystack filled with competing straws of information, she has a certain facility for finding one straw and sensing its relationship with another where the intimacy is by no means self-evident. It should come as no shock that her work herein just received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. So, kudos to Ms. Ozick, who entertained me in unexpected ways--and who should do the same for you.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on September 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Ozick is an earnest and profound writer. She shares that quality her mentor Henry James so valued,the quality of ' high seriousness'. Her essays not only reveal a discerning literary intelligence but a wise moral voice. In her essays here she like the metaphysical poets yanks together subjects from seemingly diverse worlds and makes meaning of the connection between them. The crimes of modern radical terrorists are connected to Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov's going outside and beyond the moral law- the commercial exploitation of the memory of Anne Frank connected with the general failing to properly comprehend the true meaning of the Holocaust-

Ozick is a writer who loves writers and writes about them especially well.

This is one of those books which the reader will afterwards feel a wiser person for having read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Persephone Pontelier on October 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's a testament to Ozick's intellectual and persuasive power that her epic takedown of Crime and Punishment in this collection of essays had a dear friend and I on the phone for HOURS, arguing about whether or not she had a point. I love the attitude that Ozick brings to all of her essays, and the amount she works herself (and her readers) up. This is a book to be treasured. Read it with a friend.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Riva Kelton on February 27, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
These are great essays on a variety of topics - from Henry James to Anne Frank - by a writer at the top of her game.
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