Monday, August 04, 2008

'O' dear

now finished: Thomas Jefferson by R.B. Bernstein
now reading: The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick

My 'O' author is weird. Apparently, Puttermesser is a character about whom Ozick wrote several sketches and stories, some of which were previously published in The New Yorker or The Atlantic Monthly before she gathered them into this novel. Well, ugh, but I got past that as I was enjoying the first bit about this lawyer in her thirties who is smart and likes to be intellectual even if her strange-thinking, book-and-philosophy-loving side rubs some of the lawyer and city politics schmoozing people the wrong way.

But then around 40 pages in suddenly it got into some weird stuff. And by weird, I mean Jewish magical realism. When Joe and Jodi and I used to joke about our literary "walls" (I famously have one with sigh-fi) beyond which it is hard for us to get -- to keep reading -- to not get annoyed at the thought of a certain thing interrupting our novels. Joe kind of has a wall with South American things and I think the magical realism is part of it. A lot of people have that wall; I think that's a pretty reasonable wall. I don't totally have it because I do like me some Garcia Marquez and Allende, but, for example, Like Water for Chocolate? NO thanks.

However, I also have a kind of Jewishness literary wall. I'm almost terrified to write this because it will sound so -- well, anti-Semitic I guess. But it's really not. Anyone who understands the wall knows it's not anti- at all. Because it has nothing to do with actual Judaism or Jews. It's like a literary thing. A thing about fictional happenings. Joe, where are you?! Help me out here! It would never happen reading history. It's a literary wall. An example of my "Jewishness wall" would be when I'm reading Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and going along nicely relating to her and all of a sudden she brings up out of nowhere some weird reference and I have to puzzle through a paragraph or two and then I finally realize I'm not totally getting it because she's alluding to something insidery and then I get annoyed. I am totally not explaining this well, so if anyone wants to accuse me of racism just sit down and talk to me about books first so I can suss out your literary wall and then we will understand each other.

My point (and oh, do I have one) is that the Jewish magical realism was a bit too much for me. A wall stacked upon a wall-let, if you will. All of a sudden Puttermesser has created a golem. And I do mean all of a sudden; the story was going along quite nicely realistically, with civil servant bureaucracy and whatnot. And then it got all Jewish mystical rabbi what-are-you-talking-about creating a golem who is breathed to life with the intoning of aleph, bet, some other Hebrew letters... I don't know, it was weird. Is weird.

But, it's my 'O,' so I keep reading.

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