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The Puttermesser Papers, Cynthia Ozick (1997)

A woman, her golem, and the keys to the city

by
Adam Kirsch
September 17, 2013

Of all Ozick’s many fictional creations, none is as formidable and heartbreaking as Ruth Puttermesser, the heroine of the five stories that make up this quasi-novel. Like her name (which means “butter-knife”), Puttermesser has little dignity: She is an aging civil servant, living alone in New York City. Yet in this series of tragicomic fantasias, we see Puttermesser’s inner life come pouring out: She summons up a Golem to serve as a surrogate daughter, and falls bookishly in love, and gets conned by a Russian immigrant relative. In these surreal parables, Ozick communicates bittersweet truths about love, aging, feminism, and life in America’s most Jewish city.

Adam Kirsch is a poet and literary critic, whose books include The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.

Adam Kirsch is a poet and literary critic, whose books include The People and the Books: 18 Classics of Jewish Literature.

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