4 out of 5: Cynthia Ozick’s latest novel, Foreign Bodies, is a reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors. Middle-aged, unmarried Bea is sent to Paris by her volatile brother Marvin to rescue Marvin’s son from a life of dissipation and from the clutches of an older woman. The story unfolds in the year 1952 through a combination of letters and shifting narrative perspectives. Even a charlatan doctor, the temporary lover of Marvin’s daughter, gets a turn as the protagonist. Ozick’s prose is complex and poetic; it’s infused with a rhythmic musicality that, while striking, sometimes loses its meaning: “Grief is nightmare, grief is gargoyle: the shock of fresh bereavement must be stirring up such grotesqueries of criminality.”
Like a Gothic cathedral, Foreign Bodies is a beautifully intricate construction, filled with endless nooks and crannies that repeatedly echo the more general motifs. The ever-shifting perspective, while masterfully executed, does not linger on any character long enough to engage the reader. The resulting emotional distance results in an admirable book that’s not likely to inspire a deep emotional response.