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Dictation: A Quartet
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Four stories of comedy, deception, and revenge, including one previously unpublished, from the acclaimed author of Heir to the Glimmering World. Cynthia Ozick's new work of fiction brings together four long stories 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. These not-so-innocents proceed from self-deception to deceiving others, who do not take it lightly. Revenge is the consequence -- and for the reader, a delicious, if dark, recognition of emotional truth. The glorious new novella "Dictation" imagines a fateful meeting between the secretaries to Henry James and Joseph Conrad at the peak of their 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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In her elegant new collection, Ozick (Heir to the Glimmering World) examines with characteristic humor the passions that motivate the human heart and the human foibles that often lead to self-deception and misery. In the wonderfully witty and biting opening novella, "Dictation," Miss Bosanquet and Miss Hallowes, the respective amanuenses of Henry James and Jospeh Conrad at the height of their careers, concoct a marvelous scheme to write themselves into posterity. This novella alone is worth the price of the book for its detailed portrayals of characters and its careful construction of story. "Actors" follows the fortunes of Matt Sorley as he searches for work in New York and eventually is tapped to play Lear in an adaptation of the play that features Lear as a Jewish emigrant. Sorley's production is interrupted by a real Lear-an elderly and quite mad Jewish actor who had performed this role originally many years ago. In "At Fumicaro," an art critic attempts to marry his Italian maid only to realize that she has strung him along to rob him. Finally, in "What Happened to the Baby?" a young girl rehearses the story of her uncle's infidelity and her aunt's Medea-like revenge. Ozick is at the top of her form in these splendid stories, and every library will want a copy. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/07.]-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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, ne 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.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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