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The Puttermesser Papers: A Novel Paperback – June 30, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Veteran novelist and essayist Ozick continues to impress with this episodic, highly imaginative, humorous exploration of the disappointed life of brilliant Jewish lawyer and scholar, Ruth Puttermesser. In her thirties, Ruth found her early success in law school quickly turning to failure as she descended through the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of New York City government. In her forties, she unwittingly creates a golem?an artificial human being derived from Hebrew folklore?who gets Ruth elected mayor of New York but soon destroys the Eden it helped create. In her fifties, Ruth finally finds a soul mate in flamboyant artist Rupert. But as soon as they get married, Rupert leaves. A master stylist with a powerful command of the English language, Ozick has created a revealing portrait of a complex woman, as well as a dark satire of government bureaucracy. Essential for literary collections and highly recommended for general collections.
-?Patricia Ross, Westerville P.L.,Ohio
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 30, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679777393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679777397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Luis M. Luque on April 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
As others have already pointed out, to call this a novel is misleading. While it can be read as a novel (as I did and you should), "The Puttemesser Papers" is actually a compilation of independent short stories revolving around a dominant character: Ruth Puttermesser. The different sections could be read in any order and you could love it (or hate it, I suppose) just as much.

Having never read anything of Cynthia Ozick's, I was anxious to find out whether she measured up to the National Book Award Finalist sticker on the cover or whether she would be just another pretentious modern voice full of intellect but ultimately lacking in storytelling ability, like say Jonathan Franzen in "The Corrections."

Well, fear not, Ozick is a superb storyteller and a prose stylist. She not only commands the English language as well as anyone, but she does so while combining vivid characters, intelligent insights into modern life, great observational detail, and interesting trivia. And she manages to do it in service to subtle plots that have a great deal to say about life, love, happiness, the illusiveness of satisfation and our stubborn resistance to learning.

I don't want to discuss the storylines, I leave that to other reviewers. Ultimately, I think any plot summaries are a disservice in this case, as the plots are somehow almost secondary to everything else going on in the stories, mainly Puttermesser's rich interior life.

Now some criticism: this book has the potential to enrage a few readers with its frequent allusions to literary, philosophical, political, musical and historical esoterica and its sprinkling of foreign phrases.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By on September 22, 1997
Format: Hardcover
By combining a good eye, sharp wit, and lighthearted cynicism, the award-winning author Cynthia Ozick writes the ultimate parable about the fatalistic idealism that disheartens every true rationalist in her compilation, "Puttermesser Papers". Ruth Puttermesser is a cerebral, yet philosophical Jewish Manhattanite. As we journey through different episodes in her life, Puttermesser searches for identity, experiments occassionally in love, and struggles to realize her ideals. Ozick's main purpose eventually shows itself to be the exploration of the ghastly possibility that failures in life sometimes occur not necessarily because we dont have the drive to fulfill our ideals, but that ideals are simply ideals and can never be realized in a world like ours.

Puttermesser demonstrates this (yet never seems to see it until the end; after all she IS a rationalist) through failed love affairs, the destruction of her brilliant law career by an unqualified colleague, an initially successful but ultimately disasterous and futile tenure as the esteemed mayor of New York City, her attempts to use her legal skills to acquire citizenship for her Muscovite cousin (who in actuality only came to America to earn money), her murder and rape (in that order), and finally Ozick's final discourse, on Puttermesser and the meaning of Paradise. The same point is demonstrated as Puttermesser, a person whose thoughts are seldom erratic, besides her occasional fits of self-delusion (I remind you AGAIN, she IS a rationalist) fails yet time and time again in her very logical and carefully calculated efforts to do what every scientist and rationalist has always tried to do; to attempt to better their lives by analyzing a problem, and trying to solve it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 29, 2000
Format: Paperback
Although The Puttermesser Papers is billed as a novel, it is not a novel in the traditional sense but rather five short works of fiction, each of which could stand alone. Each "story" gives us insight into the life of Ruth Puttermesser, student, idealist and lover of the law. These fictions illuminates various stages of Puttermesser's life, about a decade apart, and beginning when Puttermesser is thirty-four.
Although we come to realize in the first story that this will constitute a biography of sorts, it is a very different biography in that the facts seem, more often than not, to contradict themselves. Identity, in Puttermesser's world, is something very elusive and suspect. For example, we witness a conversation between Puttermesser and her Uncle Zindel only to later learn that the conversation really did not occur.
This is a surrealistic book and we learn to accommodate its contradictions. In fact, after a time, they even become rather comforting rather than disorienting. Life, after all, is full of contradictions and Ozick wisely challenges the very idea that one's life story can be set in stone and fully told. What is consciousness and what is below the surface, she seems to be asking. Is life more accurately represented by external or internal experience? Ozick shows us Ruth Puttermesser's life from both the external and the internal viewpoint and she also leaves a good many gaps in between. One thing, though, is abundantly clear: Puttermesser's life as a lawyer in the New York City Department of Receipts and Disbursements is, internally, far richer than it is externally.
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