Andrew Bertaina's Reviews > Dictation: A Quartet

Dictation by Cynthia Ozick
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's review
Jul 30, 2012

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The book is divided up into four lengthy short stories. The stories, like any collection, vary in their degrees of interest and execution. The first story, "Dictation," seems already to have been sunk by the existence of Colm Toibin's, "The Master." That particular book about Henry James is probably as good as someone is going to do writing about the Master, and so this story trails along in its wake, a half-formed thing.

The second story, "Actors" reads a bit too much like a New Yorker shorty story. It's about a failing actor's one last chance in a ridiculous play. It lacks a bit of the verve or panache or whatever you want to call it that makes a short story start to transcend the limits of the genre.

The latter two stories in the collection, "At Fumicaro" and "What Happened to the Baby" are far more successful, the characters stranger, the plot twists, presently surprising, such that the conclusion of each story brings one into the mind of reading a very pleasurable short story. They approach the very good side of the form. Anyhow, though no one would do it, I'd skip the first and just read the latter two as an exercise in appreciating good realist story telling.

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