Sunday, April 26, 2009

Romance, a haircut, and a little heaven... (Books - The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick)

As we approach the last 3 weeks of the semester, I'm not sure how I am going to keep up here. I'll do my best. I managed to finish Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers. Following her being elected mayor of New York with the help of her golem (see my earlier posts here and here), we see Ruth P. paired off, visited by a cousin from Moscow, and, finally, in paradise. One of the great pleasures of this book is the whimsical voice of its narrator:
Stop. Stop, stop! Puttermesser's biographer, stop! Disengage, please. Though it is true that biographies are invented, not recorded, here you invent too much. A symbol is allowed, but not a whole scene: do not accommodate too obsequiously to Puttermesser's romance. Having not much imagination, she is literal with what she has.
But invent she does! And Puttermesser does find romance, at least for a time - it's ok to tell you this as the chapter heading brazenly announces the fact. What I especially love about Puttermesser Paired is that the then well-into-middle-age Miss P, being by that time a confirmed bachelor in love with narrative, models her budding romance with one Rupert Rabeeno on the relationships between George Eliot and her husband (during their romance they read five biographies to each other aloud), and then later her husband's nephew, who is many years her junior. The difference in age between Rupert and herself is a source of great consternation for Ruth. Observe this quirky little scene Cynthia Ozick masterfully develops combining a haircut, an inner monologue and Ruth watching herself in the mirror:
After supper he cut her hair. The wisps fell from her nape and forehead, all over her shoulders and the floor. She watched in the mirror as he snipped,e vening out the sides: it struck her that she was not yet a hag. Tiny hyphens of hair-cuttings fuzzed her neck; he blew them down inside her blouse and over her back. Her mouth in the mirror was content. Her toungue slipped out like a shining lizard. He never thought of her as too old. Nothing grotesque lay between them. She believed that now.
Sensuality expressed in a haircut - this book is full of surprises like this perfect little moment involving thoughts, sight (not only we seeing Ruth, but Ruth seeing herself), sound (the scissors), and touch (the hair cuttings on her neck and then his breath).

The biggest surprise, shock really, is the final chapter Puttermesser in Paradise which appropriately has a very different tone from the rest. Short, sharp, a little ugly in some ways yet very beautifully imagined. It is best experienced following the rest of the book, so I'll leave off here with my strong recommendation that you read it for its fantastical narrative voice, its smart, lonely and touching heroine, or any other pleasures you might find in it.

Margaret Drabble's The Peppered Moth is up next. I've never read anything of her's before.

1 comment:

verbivore said...

Your posts on Puttermesser have convinced me to go back and give this novel a try. I tried it about five-six years ago and just couldn't get into it - but reading the excerpts you^ve posted tells me I might not have been in the right frame of mind. I look forward to a revisit!