Dic­ta­tion: A Quartet

  • Review
By – January 27, 2012

Dic­ta­tion, Cyn­thia Ozick’s mas­ter­ful new col­lec­tion, is com­prised of four long, intri­cate­ly plot­ted tales.

In the title sto­ry, which is pre­vi­ous­ly unpub­lished, two young women, sec­re­taries to Hen­ry James and Joseph Con­rad respec­tive­ly, meet at Mr. James’s coun­try estate. A friend­ship devel­ops, a bold scheme is hatched as the two amanu­enses con­trive to place their per­son­al imprints on posterity.

At Fumi­caro” is set at a tran­quil Catholic con­fer­ence cen­ter tucked into the moun­tains above Lake Como, in Mussolini’s Italy. An emi­nent Amer­i­can Catholic lit­er­ary crit­ic arrives at the con­fer­ence, falls pre­cip­i­tous­ly in love with a preg­nant, teen-age peas­ant girl. Four days lat­er, they marry.

Actors” fol­lows the dis­mal for­tunes of an over-the-hill char­ac­ter actor as he rehears­es for the title role in an adap­ta­tion of King Lear, in which Lear has been re-imag­ined as a Jew­ish emigrant.

A naive col­lege stu­dent enmesh­es her­self in the bit­ter mar­i­tal dis­cord of her crazy Esper­an­tist uncle and his wife, in What Hap­pened to the Baby?” Mid-1950’s kocha­leyn life is warm­ly drawn as the sto­ry moves between the Catskill Moun­tains, Man­hat­tan, and the Bronx.

Ozick’s high intel­li­gence, her sly, some­times laugh-out-loud com­ic sense, and superb com­mand of the lan­guage per­me­ate these sto­ries, along with her unique com­pre­hen­sion of the human heart.

Judith Felsen­feld book of short fic­tion, Blaustein’s Kiss, was pub­lished in April, 2014. Her sto­ries have appeared in numer­ous mag­a­zines and lit­er­ary reviews, includ­ing The Chica­go Review, The South­west Review, Blue Mesa, and broad­cast nation­wide on NPR’s Select­ed Shorts.

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