Ozick has been a fervent critic of identity politics since the nineteen-seventies ... and yet few have written so well about the inconstant self-esteem of the socially marginalized ... A brisk work of some thirty thousand words, it explores her favorite subjects—envy and ambition, the moral peril of idolatry—in her favorite form. As you might expect, it also has much to say about last things, and the long perspectives open to the human mind as it approaches its terminus ... It’s here, around the halfway point, that Ozick begins to move through the gears of her formidable imagination, introducing a tincture of magic to what has so far been a piece of fairly standard realism ... Ozick’s book about a man ensnared by history is at once a warning against the hazards of nostalgia and an invitation to take a longer view of how we got to where we are. Transfixed by the unfolding spectacle of current events, the modern reader is apt to miss her richest and most subtle suggestion: that we have made an idol of the present.
Ozick’s nonfiction is sharp, layered, earnest, and extremely funny. Her essays on Sontag or Updike or Roth or Gass or Trilling ought not to resonate as they once did, but following Ozick’s arguments about decades-old literary controversies is an urgent, exhilarating experience. Perhaps it is her understanding of how language holds in its arms both our souls and our wits, the imagination and the intellect, that infuses her nonfiction with this pulse of necessity ... Fiction, on the other hand, 'is all discovery,' and hers is raucous, unexpected, passionate, and wildly original. Everything I have read (and I am still reading) hurtles forward with the force of anticipation and intellectual surprise. The suspense of her work would be inexplicable sometimes if considering only the subject ... No matter what the topic, Ozick’s prose urges the breathless reader along, her love of language rolling excitedly through her sentences like an ocean wave. Ozick’s new novel, Antiquities , moves softly, with a tenderness and quiet intimacy that settle on a most unlikely Ozick character: Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, an elderly WASP lawyer ... Short and swift and elegant, it is also as rich and as complicated as any of Ozick’s creations ... Ozick knows to what end. She knows there is a relationship that begins within the writer and flows to the words she writes and on to her readers ... She is a writer of wild and spacious and daunting imagination, of unyielding sensitivity to the absurdities of life and to its pain, so much pain ... Freedom and volatility and irresponsibility conferred and commanded by imagination—this is a wonderful description of Ozick’s own writing, to which should be added playful intelligence, comic wisdom, eloquent abundance, the knife edge of economy, the lightness of irony, the weight of history, and finally an overarching passion—no, let’s call it love—for words in all their delicacy and power.
With Ozick, we often encounter characters who appear in fantastic guise to disrupt contemporary life. They tend to embody a fragment of Jewish history and offer a warning about the consequences of forgetting. These characters are beguiled, and frequently undone, by the enigma of memory ... Her sentences are highly caffeinated; black coffee, double shot. She is forever pulling at verbs and adjectives as if they are different colors, launching micro-experiments in form. There are paragraphs where form butts up against comprehension, and yet at the same time there is a sense of wonderment at language being so severely tested, puzzled, thrown into new meanings and shapes ... Ozick is always beckoning around the next turn. And yet when you arrive she has doubled back and changed the route, which makes for an exhilarating, and often dizzying, experience. Antiquities is a deeply intellectual meditation on memory, history, and mortality. It is breathtaking in its beauty, erudition, and evocation of a lost world.
About to turn 93 years old, she is as vibrant on the page as ever. In Antiquities, the latest of her many books, Ozick employs her virtuosic literary style to weave an enigmatic tale about the ephemeral nature of memory and the transience of life ... vintage Cynthia Ozick. But whether you’re new to her work or a longtime fan, you’ll find plenty to entertain as well as to astonish ... Ozick simultaneously builds suspense and provides comic relief by having the absent-minded Petrie repeatedly begin to spill the beans, then suddenly meander away to another topic ... Indisputable is Ozick’s exquisite artistry in rendering yet another resonant and unsettling tale.
... the strongest literary aspect of this novella is its voice. Petrie’s style is self-conscious, throat-clearing and evasive ... Archaic locutions give the prose an aptly dusty air ... I admit with some embarrassment that I’m still hazy on what exactly this novella wishes to convey about Judaism and anti-Semitism ... I tagged this book as 'odd.' It is odd. Readers don’t always find it obvious why an author chose to tell this particular story rather than another. However quirky a premise may first appear, the opacity of the author’s motivation is of no importance so long as we get swept up in the tale and finally find it satisfying. Yet I have to say I found this story unsatisfying, and in the end a little hollow. Commonly, once a work of fiction proves intoxicating, we stop wondering why on earth the author chose to write it. I haven’t stopped wondering. I don’t understand why Ozick decided to write this of all books — about an elderly man in a former boarding school reminiscing about a 12-year-old boy whose primary exoticism was being Jewish. This slender volume did my life no harm, but I can’t honestly imagine pushing it urgently into a friend’s hands ... At 93, Ozick can still craft a beautiful sentence, which is more than many a younger writer can boast; if I’m spooling out prose this graceful in 2050, I’ll kiss the floor. So I hope I haven’t sounded unkind. But Cynthia Ozick is a pro. Whatever her age, she can take it.
Ozick is doing something interesting here—or a couple of interesting somethings. First, she is blurring the line between past and present to reflect not only the muddle of her protagonist’s memory but also the insular society in which he has spent his life. Even more, she is aligning Lloyd, a scion of the WASP establishment, with the outsiders ... Here is the prowess of the novella, as well as its author, now in her 10th decade: Antiquities gives us a narrator not only unreliable but actively self-deceptive, unable to reckon with who he is ... Age, we want to imagine, is what happens if we are lucky. But the reality is more complex. That is both the subject and the subtext of this novella, which is most resonant, perhaps, in how it never looks away from the slow but steady disintegration that awaits.
... a haunting chronicle of an old, embittered man ... The intensity of the prose suggests to me that the story mirrors Ozick’s biography ... But what really floored me is how Cynthia Ozick transforms this angry and rigid malignity, that clearly holds a solid marker within her, into exquisitely wrought prose filled with insights about the fallibility of the human condition and the blind spots that hold us captive.
... this slim but by no means slight narrative is as cunning and rich as anything she’s written ... Ms. Ozick has created a character who, unlike herself, is unconscious of the reverberations of the words he chooses ... Petrie’s inbred xenophobia and anti-Semitism snake through Antiquities like a toxic river, presenting a rare view in Ms. Ozick’s work of such bigotry seen from the opposite shore ... she is still compelled by the perplexities of history, and still devoted to literature as a cause. More important, at nearly 93, her lifelong concerns with mortality and loneliness remain central.
What’s most striking about Antiquities,...is how rigorously Ozick disciplines her normal verbal extravagance, her habitual attraction to 'the holy power of language and its cadences' ... The friction between the practiced tranquility of Petrie’s self-account and the powerful feelings underneath generates considerable heat ... all this is pure [Henry] James [.]
This slim novel (Ozick rarely writes long) is not merely a gem but also a tiny peephole into the purpose of living in a world that outlasts us. I devoured it in one sitting and then thought about it for days, trying to solve its puzzle ... Petrie’s unexamined anti-Semitism here is structural to the plot as well as to the world we live in; we readers are enlisted to sweep up such shards and stones from Petrie’s narrative, the necessary archaeological sifting work for the gradual revelation of what this vast edifice of elitism conceals ... It is, as both Petrie and Deuteronomy put it, not in the heavens. Much of this novel will seem rambling and tangential to readers unfamiliar with Ozick’s style, but part of her alchemy is how each sentence upon rereading is revealed to be essential to the puzzle, another hidden clue, although often to a world outside the text. For a book ostensibly about a childhood encounter, for instance, most of its pages are taken up with Petrie’s daily life in old age, with its losses great and small ... Ozick’s work is deeply Jewish, which means that knowledge is required to recognize its depth. It is a profoundly acquired taste, acquired through years of communal thought about the meaning of worshiping an eternal God during an ephemeral life. Petrie himself would never get it, although Elefantin would. Antiquities is classic Ozick, marvelous Ozick, Ozick at the height of her powers. She has of course been at the height of her powers for at least 50 years by now, but that only makes her ongoing creativity an even greater gift to those readers lucky enough to encounter it and to give it the attention it boldly demands.
Ozick, whose artistry, erudition, and renown as a fiction writer and critic span decades, is a consummate stylist and a virtuoso of subtlety with a Jamesian streak ... a work of delectable wit, astute imagination, and piercing insight ...Ozick sagaciously traces anti-Semitism’s perpetual, toxic reach across centuries and continents.
... an enigmatic novel that demonstrates [Ozick's] prose skills are undiminished, even as they’re deployed in the service of a story that doesn’t feel fully worthy of her considerable talent ... a perplexing novel. There’s certainly nothing about it that will cause any reader to resent the brief investment of time it will take to read it, and some may well find themselves drawn to its vague sense of mystery. But when considering Cynthia Ozick’s diverse, impressive body of work, there are other places where that time might be better spent.