- Hardcover: 310 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (September 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0618470492
- ISBN-13: 978-0618470495
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 84 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,120,340 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hardcover – September 1, 2004
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Even though the fathers of these families are wildly different, they are all, in their own ways absent. Professor Mitwisser is lost in his scholarly pursuit of an ancient and obscure Jewish sect. Rose’s father is a self-absorbed drunk, thief and gambler, as down on his luck as the professor, while James A’Bair, Sr. relates to his young son only as a commercial product. They are funhouse mirror distortions of what a father should be.
The mothers are missing, too. Elsa Mitwisser, a well-known scientist before she was driven out of Germany, is mentally unstable, her mind wrenched out of focus by the traumas of the flight from Germany. Rose’s mother died when she was a child. James A’Bair’s mother colludes in the father’s project to turn their child into cash.
And the children are orphans. Rose and James, although young have no living parents, while the five Mitwisser children run wild, with only the inconstant supervision of the oldest sister. Others, including Rose, her cousin Bertram, and James, take on the maternal role in interesting ways.
But it would be misleading to dwell too much on these parallels, since this is really a novel about the aloneness of human beings and their chasing after glimmers---books, money, security, love---to bring happiness to their lives. The book turns on the paradoxes of the ones who draw the glimmers into something more substantial and the ones who do not. Might it be better not to chase after glimmers at all?
I can't say Heir is a page-turner, but it's compelling enough, and Ozick's writing is flawless. While I doubt the book is strictly autobiographical, I'd bet my typing fingers Ozick based it on her own early experiences as a secretary, having held quite a few equally oddball positions myself.
The best thing about this novel, though, is the ending: it's been many years since I've read a book that so completely satisfied me in the end. Some readers will no doubt think it a bit too tidy, but I'm of the camp that eschews inconclusive denouements. It doesn't take a prophet to know that every story like life goes on--but I appreciate a book and an author that can deliver the goods in the final pages. Well done, Ms. Ozick!
Would have enjoyed this book with fewer pages and less back and forth between characters.