Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick

Cynthia Ozick

Excerpt

"The recovery of Covenant can be attained only in the living-out of the living Covenant; never among the shamanistic toys of literature." Such a sentence, typical of Cynthia Ozick's critical speculations, is fortunately contradicted by her narrative art. The author of "Envy; or, Yiddish in America" and of "Usurpation (Other People's Stories)," two novellas unequalled in her own generation, has recovered her version of Covenant among the tropes (or "shamanistic toys") of literature. Doubtless she lives out her own trust in a living Covenant also, since she is an authentic sharer in the normative tradition that, above all others in the West, bids us honor our mothers and our fathers, and more precisely, honor their virtues. But Ozick is neither a theologian, nor a literary critic, nor a Jewish historian. She does not deign to begin with a consciousness of rupture between normative Hebraism and her own vision. So decisive a denial of rupture must be honored as the given of her fiction, even as the fierce Catholicism of Flannery O'Connor must be accepted as the ground from which everything rises and converges in the author of The Violent Bear It Away.

Ozick's true precursor as a writer is Bernard Malamud, who hovers rather uneasily close in stories like "The Pagan Rabbi" and "The Dock-Witch," but who is triumphantly absorbed and transformed in Ozick's stronger works, including "Usurpation (Other People's Stories)." "Usurpation" is Ozick's central story, the key signature of her quest as a writer, just as her most brilliant nonfictional prose (except for the poignant "A Drugstore in Winter") is her "Preface" to Bloodshed and Three Novellas (1976), which essentially is an introduction to "Usurpation."

The "Preface" lists the other people's stories:

The tale called "The Magic Crown" in my story is a paraphrase, except for a twist in its ending, of Malamud's "The Silver Crown" . . .

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