Masterly collection of short stories by an American novelist at the height of her powers
It is the stories upon which Cynthia Ozick’s literary reputation rests. She writes about bitterness, cruelty and compulsion with brutal acuity and tenderness. She has created a timeless collection in which Greek mythology, superstition and the religious and cultural experience of the Jewish diaspora in America collide. The Pagan Rabbi is seduced by a tree sprite after seeing his daughter rescued from drowning by a water sprite. Such ecstasy is not permitted to mortals and so the scholar must die. He hangs himself with his prayer shawl as he watches the strangely beautiful nymph decay.
In Envy, a Yiddish poet who watches the success of a contemporary, becomes very like a character in an I.B. Singer story entrapped by his anguish and haunted by the memory of a child. In the Doctor’s Wife, the most gentle of the stories, a poor doctor not unlike Chekhov endures family life in which he is adored by his three sisters and oppressed by his family obligations.
In these stories, we see Ozick defining herself and her literary territory. The stories may be read purely as evocations of Jewish experience, where time seems to have by-passed these characters. In the Butterfly and the Traffic Light, Jerusalem is seen upon a hill as only it can be in legend, and America is said not to have cities scarred by battles. This is a dazzling collection of short stories by an internationally celebrated novelist.