The Din in the Head: Essays

  • From the Publisher
November 7, 2011

In her fifth col­lec­tion of essays, The Din in the Head, sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­an Ozick con­tin­ues to astound with lap­idary style, wit, and eru­di­tion, on both her con­tin­u­al themes, and those she is address­ing for the first time. Hen­ry James, the Mas­ter she has wor­shipped since writ­ing her M.A. the­sis on him, is the sub­ject of two essays. She con­tin­ues her con­cern with Saul Bel­low; Ger­shom Scholem; Isaac Babel and one of his first Amer­i­can crit­ics, Lionel Trilling; John Updike; and fit­ting roles of and sub­jects for Jew­ish writ­ers. She deliv­ers new opin­ions and sub­jects — Helen Keller, Susan Son­tag, Sylvia Plath, Del­more Schwarz, and Robert Alter’s new trans­la­tion of the Torah. Ozick’s essays are worth read­ing both for sub­stance and style. As she says, the respon­si­bil­i­ties of writ­ers are only to the come­ly shape of a sen­tence, and to the unfet­tered imag­i­na­tion, which some­times leads to wild places via wild routes.” She deliv­ers on both accounts, part­ly due to her writ­ing style, which is that of per­fect­ing each word and phrase before going on to the next.

In her final essay, An (Unfor­tu­nate) Inter­view with Hen­ry James,” she revis­its James, just as in her fic­tion­al Put­ter­mess­er tales, she revis­it­ed the char­ac­ter every decade. This time, in eerie par­al­lel to the bru­tal death of Ruth Put­ter­mess­er in Put­ter­mess­er in Par­adise,” Ozick rehears­es all of what she sees as James’s weak spots to demol­ish him. This read­er cheered at the mis­chie­vous­ness of Ozick’s van­quish­ing of her idol; we await what remains to be rebuilt now that the colos­sus has been tak­en down. The Din in the Head leaves us hop­ing Ozick con­tin­ues to be our dri­ver on many more lit­er­ary excursions.

Discussion Questions