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The Puttermesser Papers

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  985 Ratings  ·  149 Reviews
Fans of Cynthia Ozick are likely already familiar with Ruth Puttermesser, whose highly educated, unlucky-in-love but rather mystical existence as a Jewish woman in New York City has been chronicled in previously published stories appearing occasionally through the years. The Puttermesser Papers collects the old stories, along with several new ones, combined to create a fun ...more
Hardcover, 235 pages
Published January 2nd 1999 by Knopf (first published May 27th 1997)
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Aug 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, us, 20-ce
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
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Flaubert's Epigraph

The epigraph for Cynthia Ozick’s fourth novel is a quotation of a literary critic from Julian Barnes's novel “Flaubert's Parrot”. Barnes' subsequent comments are so scathing, it’s quite possible to read his novel, unaware that the ostensible source of the original quotation, Dr. Enid Starkie, Reader Emeritus in French Literature at Oxford, is a real person:

“Flaubert does not build up his characters, as did Balzac, by objective, external description: in fact, so careless is he
Mar 21, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
So, um, I really don't know what to say. It's like that perfect thing that breaks your heart and then . . .

I know everyone says Moby Dick is the great American novel, but I think this might be it instead.
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.


I suppose I'm not a fan of one-character free-for-alls, or at least not when there is such a sharp contrast between the freedom of plot and the freedom of everything else. Golems and copylifers and Soviet relatives, oh my, but with the same old names being raised to the sky and the same old slurs being thrown around (there's black Jewish people, y'know), following the uncommon trail of Jewish womanhood as United States assimilationist becomes an exercise in suspending disbelief in the melti
Stephen Goldenberg
Key events in the life (and afterlife) of Ruth Puttermesser, a fairly unremarkable jewish New Yorker are the subject of this strange novel. The most compelling section veers off into magical realism (a genre I'm not particularly fond of) when she creates a female golem from the earth in her houseplant pots. The golem becomes her amanuensis and is so success ful in promoting Puttermesser that she is elected Mayor of New York. During her brief period in charge, she turns the city into a kind of pa ...more
Jun 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
Feb 12, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nordamericana
Un libro molto originale, parla della vita scritta in racconti, di questa donna, che a dispetto del titolo non voleva essere chiamata "signorina", ma semplicemente con il cognome, Puttermesser, coltello del burro. C'è ironia, sagacia, una scrittura elegante e molta cultura in questo libro, dove cosa rara, i miti e la cultura ebraica sono trattati da una donna. Molti aspetti sono divertenti e surreali, tipicamente ebraici, altri un po' più pedanti. Quello che non mi ha convinto è il distacco, che ...more
Julio César
La verdad me aburrió bastante... La proliferación narrativa no está ni cerca del nivel de un Foster Wallace o mismo un más accesible Franzen. Y para peor, la mística del judaísmo intelectual neoyorquino nunca me gustó, ni en Woody Allen.
Cooper Cooper
Jul 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
'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
Nov 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Mar 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010, jewish
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
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lincoln-park
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
Jul 31, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
John Pistelli
[Spoilers below, not that a book of this tough intellectual fiber can be spoiled by the mere discussion of narrative events.]

I decided to start reading Ozick in earnest—and see my review of her last essay collection here—because of her piece on the new Bloom, which reminded me of her older essay on Bloom, wherein she accuses him (rightly enough from within her own paradigm) of "idolatry," which reminded me in turn that I've never really read an Ozick book from cover to cover and that I have been
Jul 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: cilvēkiem, kuri liktu gultasbiedram pagaidīt, kamēr pabeidz lasīt grāmatu
Recommended to Una by: brālis
Īsi pirms saņēmu šo grāmatu, es redzēju sapnī, ka man atnes manu portretu, kurš ir blēžu romāns. Tas zināmā mērā piepildījās.
"Putermeserai" aiz vāka anotācijā tiešām ir lietots vārds "pikareska", bet tā attaisno šo atsauci uz žanru tikai kompozīcijas ziņā, proti, tā neturas kopā kā vienots stāsts, bet ir atsevišķu piedzīvojumu apkopojums, kurus vieno tikai galvenā varone. Taču varone nav blēdis, varbūt viņa ir pat pārāk ideālistiska (man liekas, ka ja pat es saku "pārāk ideālistiska", tas jau ka
Apr 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ficciones
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christian Schwoerke
This book inspired me to read Ozick's criticism, which, like the stories in this volume, are exquisitely written. This volume appears a hodgepodge: while the story of Ruth Puttermesser is chronological, none of the stories is told in the same way, or in quite the same voice. The common thread throughout is the making and meaning of memories, and each story eruditely approaches the loneliness of a life devoted to a vision. In Ozick's case (as I've learned in her criticism), it is art and literatu ...more
Thing Two
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: state-new-york
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
Davida Chazan
Cynthia Ozick is an amazing writer and I'm surprised I've never read anything by her before. This is probably one of the most unusual books I've ever read - and I mean that in the best possible way. You can read my review of this novel here
Nuria Castaño monllor
La última parte merece la lectura de todo el libro. Gloria bendita
Hannah Mendoza
I hated this book. I found myself, at a number of points while reading it, actually angry AT it. Ozick strikes me as a clever person who is far too impressed with her own wit to write anything so common as a story. The entire book drips with self-indulgent expression. Yes, I wanted to yell, yes, we get it, you’ve got a large vocabulary! You have read a lot! Try developing a character instead!

The main character Ruth Puttermesser never emerges, the voice of the narrator is too strong. We know an e
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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
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“I fear the dark. The dark is where preexistence abides. It is not possible to think of pre-existence, but one dreads its facsimile: post-existence. Do not erase, obliterate, or annihilate me. Mother, my mother. I will serve you. Use me in the wide world.” 0 likes
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