Thursday, August 07, 2008

So, I don't really like this book, see...

now reading: The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick

First of all, I'm skeptical of the use of the word "novel" to describe it, and that annoys me, because if I had wanted to read a collection of linked short stories, I would have. This even has that whole "A Novel" thing going on on the cover (which I find annoying, generally, but vindicating here) and I selected this book in lieu of some of her other books on the Borders Penn Plaza shelves because I had heard of her and wanted a NOVEL for this literary blog project. But as I mentioned last time, it appears these vignettes of Puttermesser's life were previously published separately. In three separate magazines. Some at least as early as 1982, and this book copyright 1997. I protest!

But anyway, I'm in now. Only, some of the vignettes (not, you see, chapters) are terrible. Others are just boring. The weird thing is, she can write. It's not a terrible writing style or anything (I'm looking at you, Burroughs) so I just kind of move along reading it, but it's kind of like reading a textbook: often, I come to the end of a page and haven't a clue what I just read. So, ugh, because that's thirty seconds more I have to spend re-reading and I may have wasted seven or eight minutes of my life over the course of the book.

So, what's good about it? (Thanks, Thumper.) Well, Puttermesser is a lawyer who loves literature, so she's a likable character for me. Sometimes. And Ozick is snarky about lawyers and city politics from time to time, so that's fun. I've also learned a whole lot about George Eliot, in a bizarre chapter short story in which Puttermesser marries a "younger man" age 40 who duplicates master painters' works of art while refusing to call himself a copyist (he "reenacts") and they sort of reenact George Eliot's life, because she also married a younger man after her longtime companion died. But it's weird. Not as weird as the golem bit, but weird.

In short, I just can't wait to be done and move on to another novel. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Oh, Thumper, I also liked the part where Puttermesser's ex-lover told her she has no feelings: "he meant that she had the habit of flushing with ideas as if they were passions" (p.44). I could see myself being accused of that. I also liked when she went to a neighbor's party three floors above her and wryly observed the cliched "New York" patter of the guy programmed to flirt sarcastically versus the other version of the patter, all about volunteer programs and poetry. "The wisecrack version and the earnest version, and all of it ego and self-regard." (p.117) Guilty as charged, I suppose.

Well that was 70 pages ago and I'm still waiting for the next interesting thing to note. SO want to be done with this book!

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