Bloodshed and Three Novellas

by Cynthia OzickKnopf, $6.95
One great charm of Cynthia Ozick’s work is that characters of so many hues—natural and supernatural, stolid and possessed—coexist so contentedly. “A Mercenary.” the first of four stories in this collection, tells in fine, lucid prose about two diplomats, one rising, the other sinking, in borrowed cultures. In another piece the author writes, with equal grace and conviction, about a goat with an aggressive literary bent: she reserves a spot for herself in the same story.
No particular theme unites the selections in this volume. One is a fable, two are fairly conventional in form, and the fourth falls somewhere between. Yet they fit neatly together, demonstrating the wry humor, the quirky intelligence, the quality of edginess, the affection for Jewish myth, and the eccentric beauty of language that make up the author’s talent for storytelling.
“Bloodshed.”the title piece, is the most remote and mysterious of the four. A man, Bleilip, both fascinated and repelled by the Hasidim. especially the survivors of the Holocaust among them (“He supposed they had a certain knowledge the unscathed could not guess at”), appears before a Hasidic rabbi packing two guns—a real one and a toy. The rabbi confiscates the toy, judging it to be more sinister than the loaded weapon. Reality we can withstand: it is the symbol that we must beware: an unsettling message to receive from such a deft teller of tales.
— Amanda Heller