Ozick's previous novel, The Puttermesser Papers
, revolved around one quirky hero; this time around, Ozick incubates several. Characters, not plot, drive this Depression-era tale, and Ozick eviscerates each one through her narrator, Rose Meadows, a resolute 18-year-old orphan. Virtually abandoned, Rose wanders into a job with the Mitwisser family, German refugees in New York City. Filling gaping holes in their household, she becomes a research assistant to the father, a professor stubbornly engaged in German and Hebrew arcana; a nurse to his oft-deranged, sequestered wife; and nanny to their five children. As she penetrates the fog surrounding their history, Rose limns their roiling inner lives with exasperated perception. Mrs. Mitwisser especially chafes against the family's precarious, degrading status as "parasites," erratically supported by the unbalanced millionaire son and heir of an author of popular children's books who is fascinated by Mr. Mitwisser's research. With her trademark lyrical prose, gentle humor and vivid imagery, Ozick paints a textured portrait of outsiders rendered powerless, retreating into tightly coiled existences of scholarly rapture, guarded brazenness and even calculated lunacy—all as a means of refuting the bleakness of a harsh, chaotic world. Erudite exposition is packed into the book, so that character study and discourse occasionally grind the plot to a halt. Edifying and evocative, if often daunting, this is a concentrated slice of eccentric life. Agent, Melanie Jackson.
This is Ozick's first book for Houghton Mifflin, and the publisher is backing it with a seven-city author tour. Despite its rigors, it may be an easier sell than
The Puttermesser Papers; the family drama makes it more accessible. Foreign rights sold in Brazil, France, Italy, Norway and Spain.