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.