The Puttermesser Papers
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The Puttermesser Papers

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  719 ratings  ·  106 reviews
With dashing originality and in prose that sings like an entire choir of sirens, Cynthia Ozick relates the life and times of her most compelling fictional creation. Ruth Puttermesser lives in New York City. Her learning is monumental. Her love life is minimal (she prefers pouring through Plato to romping with married Morris Rappoport). And her fantasies have a disconcertin...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published June 30th 1998 by Vintage (first published May 27th 1997)
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As you read this review, please bear in mind that The Puttermesser Papers really defies summarization. What I offer here can only be the most impoverished of overviews. The book must be read!

Ruth Puttermesser is a woman, an attorney, living alone in New York City. Her mother, retired with her father to Florida, writes to ask Puttermesser to fly down to check out an acquaintance's newly divorced CPA son. "Well," writes her mom, "he's divorced now no children thank God so he's free as a bird as t...more
Ohhhh life has no meaning and god has no meaning and there is no love and dreams are useless and heaven is hell and no one understaaaaands because you're all sheeeep waaaaaaahhhh.

Pure nihilistic drivel. I loved the first page, which is why I bought it, but it was all downhill from there. This book felt like listening to that loud annoying guy at the coffeeshop trying to get girls to go home with him by spouting philosophy, only worse. What's really clever is that if you don't like it, others ca...more
If Rose, Blanche, Dorothea and Sophia had an extra spare, somewhere in the back of their Miami bungalow, Cynthia Ozick could've been the fifth Golden Girl. After all, the octogenarian reportedly sleeps in past ten, is armed with a catastrophic wit, and once made an author so upset he stormed out of his own apartment. And she probably wouldn't look so bad on white wicker. Thing is, Ozick is heir to the strain of Yiddish mystical-realist literature that once roiled through Isaac Bashevis Singer's...more
A series of short fiction stories around the life and misadventures of one Ruth Puttermesser. It is a patchwork biography, thick with literary and mythical allegory - see the Golem of New York, herself as George Eliot, visits from a Soviet alter ago, and visions of Paradise.

Well, this was a strange book; I hated the ending and in fact didn't actually finish. My recommendation: don't even start it. Certainly don't finish if you don't have a strong stomach.
'The Puttermesser Papers' is an original and well-written novel, albeit with a disjointed feeling as it is split into several novellas. However, I can't separate my ex post view of it from the reason I chose to read it in the first place. The titular character, Puttermesser, seemed from the blurb like someone I could very much relate to. She is a fairly solitary bookworm who works diligently in the public sector until arbitrarily made redundant. She appears to have no interest in romance and sex...more
"Very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?"

It was Thomas Mann: the opening sentences of Joseph and His Brothers. Ruth Puttermesser, sitting under the green lamp in her lonely bedroom one moment before her death, sitting with the weight or that mighty tale of a magus pressing into her ribs, was thinking of Paradise; should we not call it bottomless?

It happens that in the several seconds before we die the well of the ribs opens, and a crystal pebble is thrown in; then t...more
While The Puttermesser Papers is considered a novel, it could also be considered a collection of short stories, as each of the five "chapters" were published previously in various magazines before being brought together as this book. However, the book has the coherence of a traditional novel, and can easily be read from front to back as one continuous tale. The story chronicles the life of the imaginary Ruth Puttermesser, an intelligent Jewish woman who lives in New York City. Each chapter chron...more
Witty and erudite, Ozick flits from literary figures, the art of copying, the Golem of Prague, city politics, office politics, love, affection and the afterlife. I have left many things out. She resorts to lists and she resorts to absurdities and she combines the two. She goes straight for humor and she is happy to dwell in pathos. I am meandering.

This is a satire of our modern life but it is also something of an exultation of it as well. The two are inseparable. There is no heaven when there is...more
Ira Therebel
This book consists of five separate parts that describe different stages in Ruth Puttermesser's life starting with her being age 34 and starting in a...more This book consists of five separate parts that describe different stages in Ruth Puttermesser's life starting with her being age 34 and starting in a law firm and ending with her death and after life.

I am worried with not giving this book a fair rating because there are many positive things in it and I can see how it can get highest rating f...more
Cooper Cooper
If you enjoy Isaac Singer and/or Saul Bellow (as I do), you’ll probably like Cynthia Ozick. She is urban (New York) and preoccupied with the Jewish experience, and her style and humor, like those of Singer and Bellow, have a Yiddish flavor. Some of her sentences could have been written by Bellow: “The Mansion thickens with erotic airs. Heavy perfumes float. Has Rappoport journeyed to mysterious islands to offer the golem these lethargic scents, these attars of weighty drooping petals?” Like Bel...more
Oct 13, 2013 Margaret rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Passionate readers of literary fiction
What kind of reader might appreciate Cynthia Ozick’s brilliantly written yet totally bizarre novel The Puttermesser Papers? The protagonist, Ruth Puttermesser, lives to read. She, like Ozick herself, is an expert on mystical Judaism; Greek philosophy; European literatures, languages, and history; contemporary New York City; and so much more. Ozick’s readers are likely themselves to be great readers, and they, no doubt, think themselves the better for it. But Ozick’s not so sure. Puttermesser’s l...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
As I was reading this, I wondered if the Spanish translation had captured the cynical mysticism - this author was recommended to me by a native Peruvian, who compared the writing style to the likeness of Juan Rulfo. With just one book read from each author, I don't feel the comparison could be validated, Ozick was much more direct and clear about her descriptions than Rulfo, even though in "The Puttermesser Papers" her subject jumped from many different settings and was involved in a lot of tumu...more
Thing Two
This is a quirky collection of stories centered around Ruth Puttermesser, a middle-aged New York attorney, orphaned daughter of Russian Jews. Putter Messer means butter knife in Yiddish, so imagine the person you'd nickname "Butterknife" and you'll picture Ruth. She has various adventures - from being fired, conjuring up a golem, to doing time as mayor of NYC. She gets married, and is murdered, and those aren't even the highlights of the book. Ozick references George Elliot quite a lot, there's...more
Aug 08, 2007 Kirsten rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: especially those who love George Eliot
"Puttermesser was thirty-four, a lawyer. She was also something of a feminist, not crazy, but she resented having "Miss" put in front of her name; she thought it pointedly discriminatory; she wanted to be a lawyer among lawyers. Though she was no virgin she lived alone, but idiosyncratically - in the Bronx, on the Grand Concourse, among other people's decaying old parents."

Ruth Puttermesser, you had me at hello.

I loved everything in this novel/story cycle, but "Puttermesser Paired" is a must for...more
Lukasz Pruski
Another great recommendation from "The Complete Review" website. It rates Cynthia Ozick's "The Puttermesser Papers" (1997) with an A+ and while I am not sure about the plus, this book is certainly a first-class piece of literature: quite strange, a little crazy, deeply intelligent, and overall delightful.

The novel is composed of five parts or episodes that portray various periods of Ruth Puttermesser's life and afterlife. In the first story, Puttermesser (her first name is seldom used) is a 34-y...more
Loved the first half, especially the golem story. Ruth Puttermesser unwittingly fantasized into existence a daughter golem, and finished sculpting it with her hands. This was terrific writing. I think I would like it way more, on a whole different level, if I knew anything at all about Jewish religion/culture. The second half sagged badly for me. By now both the story and I had split far apart in widely divergent directions, and pretty much weren't communicating.
Brent Legault
I guess the golem really got to me. Before the many, many golemic scenes, I thought I was reading a mildly interesting, fairly literate piece of regional fiction (Ozick hearts New York!). But then the golem. And the golem got to me. It really, really got to me -- under my skin, like some silly inflamation that no cream could cure. I was embarrassed to be seen with this book (I often read on the bus) until I remembered that nobody knows who Cynthia Ozick is.
Ozick is such a great writer. Puttermesser is Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, an intelligent, accomplished New York city woman doomed to a bland and doubting dissatisfaction despite her achievements.
Ozick provides one of the most believable descriptions of heaven I have ever read. I'm hoping heaven is as described by C.S. Lewis in "The Last Battle." In my heart of hearts I believe Ozick's is closer to my reality.
Ultimately I didn't make it all the way through the book before I gave up. Undoubtedly it is imaginatively written but I find that I don't care about these characters and their adventures. The style is amusing and erudite, weaving from realistic to fantastical with density and complexity. I will probably try another of her books to see if they connect with me.
This is a witty and erudite novel. At first, I was put off by the dense and demanding writing style, but eventually I got used to it and started to enjoy the always surprising content.

It’s the wry tale of Ruth Puttermesser who, with the help of a golem, becomes mayor of New York. This is just one of her motley adventures. She deals with romance, family and society, mostly to her disadvantage. She muddles through, a small bundle of nervous intellect and longing. I found her lovable, although her...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Read this several months ago now, and I keep thinking about the protagonist, Ruth Puttermesser, and some of the situations she finds herself in-- being mayor of NYC; creating a sex-crazed golem. It's an odd, fun read, a female, Jewish, NYC take on the picaresque novel.
Jaclyn Schoknecht
A major character in this book is a golem. Enough said.
While this book is clever and the experience of reading it wasn't unpleasant most of the time, there's an ingrained pessimism that's too strong for me. For every pleasure Puttermesser experiences and every ideal fulfilled, disappointing reality soon follows.

Examples: The middle-aged idealist becomes mayor and is determined to reform the city, but issues with the golem (yes, you read that right, the golem) that helped her become mayor force her to buy someone out. She marries disappointingly. Sh...more
This book is really well written. It is a story about a lonely Jewish intellectual and her life.
The first part deals with insaneness of bureaucrats in the city government. And though civil service was created in order to avoid politics the head government are political appointees that may have absolutely no knowledge of process.

The second part deals with the creation of the golum (which is my personal favorite part of the book). The golum is essentially the clone/offspring of the lawyer. I lov...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
The Puttermesser Papers made me wonder whether a woman's life shouldn't be measured more by her fantasies than by those objective facts that make up her reality. Puttermesser sculpts a golem from her apartment's potted plant soil and bathwater, and from then on we are meant to understand that Puttermesser can make her slightest desire a reality. Puttermesser is a feminist who does not need a man to help her give birth; her knowledge of Jewish folklore allows her to understand the other options a...more
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Recipient of the first Rea Award for the Short Story (in 1976; other winners Rea honorees include Lorrie Moore, John Updike, Alice Munro), an American Academy of Arts and Letters Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award, and the PEN/Malamud award in 2008.

Upon publication of her 1983 The Shawl, Edmund White wrote in the New York Times, "Miss Ozick strikes me as the best American writer to have emerg...more
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