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Dictation: A Quartet [Hardcover]

Cynthia Ozick

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Book Description

March 18 2008
Ozick’s latest work of fiction brings together four long stories, including the novella-length "Dictation," that showcase this incomparable writer’s sly humor and piercing insight into the human heart. Each starts in the comic mode, with heroes who suffer from willful self-deceit. From self-deception, these not-so-innocents proceed to deceive others, who don’t take it lightly. Revenge is the consequence—and for the reader, a delicious if dark recognition of emotional truth.

The glorious novella "Dictation" imagines a fateful meeting between the secretaries to Henry James and Joseph Conrad at the peak of those authors’ fame. Timid Miss Hallowes, who types for Conrad, comes under the influence of James’s Miss Bosanquet, high-spirited, flirtatious, and scheming. In a masterstroke of genius, Ozick hatches a plot between them to insert themselves into posterity.

Ozick is at her most devious, delightful best in these four works, illuminating the ease with which comedy can glide into calamity.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

A carefully honed, sharply intelligent new collection of four stories shows Ozick (The Heir to the Glimmering World) at the height of her stylistic powers. The title story, by far the strongest tale, follows the female secretaries of Henry James and Joseph Conrad, both of whom take dictation from the two egoist titans. When the authors meet in London, their two amanuenses collude to make their own mark on their masters' work; in so doing, they exalt, with an undeniably sexual glee, that they will thus attain immortality. Actors looks on wryly as TV character actor Matt Sorley, né Mose Sadacca and nearing 60, reluctantly takes a role that will either cap his career or defeat him. At Fumicaro follows an American Catholic literary critic in Mussolini's Italy as he falls head over heels in love with a pregnant 16-year-old peasant girl: She was more hospitable to God than anyone who hoped to find God in books. The exuberant What Happened to the Baby? follows a young college student and her eccentric Esperanto-spouting uncle to his mid-20th-century meetings of the League for a Unified Humanity. Ozick's stories ingeniously put scholarship in the service of human flowerings. (Apr.)
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"Deceptions and obsessions drive this elegant collection of four stories...Playful, teasing, provocative fare from this most accomplished of ironists." Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"These novellas are prime examples of Ozick’s rigorous writing style, her propensity for recognizing the element of ridiculousness in human tragedy, and her second-nature sympathy for eccentric characters." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

"A carefully honed, sharply intelligent new collection of four stories shows Ozick at the height of her stylistic powers...Ozick's stories ingeniously put scholarship in the service of human flowerings." Publishers Weekly

"Ozick is at the top of her form in these splendid stories, and every library will want a copy. Highly recommended." Library Journal Starred --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you, Ms. Ozick, for another stunning book April 28 2008
By B. Rice - Published on Amazon.com
It's incredible! Every time a new book of Ozick's is published, I give thanks to the Muses for having provided her the necessary inspiration. As usual, her sentences are gorgeous and lyrical; the characters are funny and utterly compelling.

"Dictation" is the only story contained that has not been previously published. It begins with the master Henry James and an emerging Joseph Conrad. Her characterizations of each man, as well as of Conrad's wife, are hilarious. Soon, however, the story shifts to the writers' amanuenses. For fear of ruining any of the story's surprises - there are many! - I will only say that the story may motivate you to go out and re-read, or read for the first time, certain stories by James and Conrad. (Though of course that may be a foolish enterprise, considering the story's "punch line.")

Familiar themes of morality and art are present, but Ozick explores them in a way I didn't expect.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of contemporary literature.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Water ... Aug. 4 2008
By Marina Streznewski - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
How refreshing to read something written by someone with such a facility with language! The stories were wonderful. Highly recommended to me by my cousin -- and he was absolutely right!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A type of short story I usually don't care for Aug. 5 2011
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
The stories in this collection, despite their length, are each driven by ideas (pretty much one per story) rather than characters. The closest to a character driven story, and the one I liked best, is " At Fumicaro", but even this is rather dry. I am sure some other readers will find humor and irony in the "Dictation" story, it is certainly clever.
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, but unmoving April 9 2013
By Ellen Etc. - Published on Amazon.com
I read only the title story, about a scheme between the amanuenses of Joseph Conrad and Henry James, and was not motivated to continue. The secretaries were superficial and unlikely, the authors themselves blustering caricatures. In her novel Cannibal Galaxy (Library of Modern Jewish Literature) and the story "The Pagan Rabbi" (her previous works with which I was familiar), Ozick portrayed deep feeling and a sense of consequence and doom, but this story seemed like language poetry, more concerned with brilliant turns of phrase than with the hearts of the characters.
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive Nov. 4 2012
By Petra Kim - Published on Amazon.com
Ozick manages here, as in most of her other long short stories and novellas, to do some tremendous things, making language and meaning pliable in a way that almost nobody else manages to do. She breaks all sorts of "rules" commonly taught in creative writing courses, and does so to amazing effect. For my money the best story in here is "Whatever Happened to the Baby?", though all the pieces are strong and satisfying.

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