Though this passage comes early in the book, it is an excellent example of a linguistic and narrative culmination. The unencumbered
exuberance is electrifying, and Ozick perfectly balances her character’s
righteous and justified anger with bizarre (yet charming) overreaction.
This energetic explosion feels reminiscent of the rhythm of landmark
works of Jewish comedy such as Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm.
This exuberant, wry style, more so than in any of the other novels, char-
acterizes Elissa Albert’s After Birth, published in 2015. Albert’s novel is
about a Jewish woman, Ari, married to a gentile man and raising their
baby, haunted by the literal ghost of her mother. She is a lapsed aca-
demic who talks a lot about doing her dissertation while never actually
working on it and is feeling a little at sea a year after having a child. Al-
bert’s sentences, like Ozick’s, are often long and digressive. As opposed
to Ruth Puttermesser’s outward expressions of rage, Ari’s remarks are
often more pointed barbs, often mean-spirited in a relatable way. Here,
for example, she catalogs some of the people she met at an academic
Couple dozen people standing around. Art department theory bitch
in Kabuki makeup, the sad divorced department dude and his townie
girlfriend. Art department stoner, hot sociopathic sculptor-in-band,
insanely tense history couple. Cat. Jewish studies guy who’s been extra
special sweet to me since he found out about Grandma surviving the
last Big Euro Jew Purge.
Initially I bristled at depictions that are both
harsh and also about characters who have essentially no relevance to the story. The last line,
however, recontextualizes Ari’s efforts as a
woman trying to take control of her own narrative, trying to diminish the power that people’s
perceptions have over her. The idea of being appreciated as a person because of her proximity
by Elisa Albert. Mariner Books (reprint), 2016,
208 pp., $14.95, paper.