Women Writers Reading Challenge #28: The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick


Some books rush by, leaving little impression. Others linger, force you to examine them a bit more slowly. Cynthia Ozick’s book demands this consideration. It somehow manages to be a recounting of the most mundane and the most fantastic and surreal, where golems are mentioned in the same breath as city corruption and Russian immigration.

Ozick’s book follows the life of Ruth Puttermesser, a lawyer from a lapsed Jewish family. At her peak, she becomes the mayor of New York, and at the end she is revealed to be as human as everyone she encounters. Her intellectual passions fuel her life and her story is told with humor and wit.

What Ozick’s novel manages to do is chronicle a whole life. You see Puttermesser (which means butterknife, if you’re interested) as a young woman, and then see what happens as life presents its disappointments and challenges, its opportunities and setbacks. Remarkable things happen and then are taken away. You see a person age until their past seems like it happened to somebody else with stages that are marked by such distinct events that they are linked only by the thread of personality, which spins tighter and unravels as it goes.

On the whole it is a remarkable book, quiet even when it speaks of noisy things. The writing takes you somewhere without really taking you very far away. It’s an amazing gift to make amazing things seem not only possible but positively unremarkable.

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