It wasn’t an easy task, but the dedicated and determined readers taking part in the Waldo Library’s Jewish American Literature book group, Demons, Golems, and Dybbuks: Monsters of Jewish Imagination took on the award winning novel, The Puttermesser Papers by respected essayist and literary critic, Cynthia Ozick.
For starters, readers tried to decide if the collection of connected stories was truly a novel or merely a mishmash of chapters that featured the same character. They then moved onto the writing style and language. Quite a few participants mentioned the deliberately obscure vocabulary and felt the tone was a bit patronizing in using that style and language. Others felt the overuse of pretentious terminology disrupted the flow of the story and contributed to the distance between the reader and the character of Ruth Puttermesser. Readers interested in further information on this topic might do well to consult HebrewTalk: 101 Hebrew Roots and the Stories They Tell by Joseph Lowin as reviewed by Jerome A. Chanes of The Jewish Daily Forward.
Readers grappled with the intent the author had for her novel/collection. They were looking for the “meaning” behind each chapter, the golem, and Ruth’s perception of her life and the outside world. Finally, one attendee piped up that it’s quite possible the discussion of “meaning” was pointless as there were certain aspects to life that are without meaning and might this story be reflecting that?
Another reader asked the members of the group to look at what wasn’t visible in the novel. Ruth had no husband or children and he wondered if the author wanted the discussion to revolve around Ruth’s life choices and was she living a worthy life? Attendees weren’t certain the author had the answer but felt certain the author was asking that question.
Everyone was charmed by the variety of reactions of the other readers and agreed that a book that generated that much conversation was a good book for discussion. No one went so far as to say the book itself was good.
We’re satisfied with that ending to the evening.