Heir to the Glimmering World by Cynthia Ozick is a strange, yet entirely realistic and believable novel. It’s the story of Rosie, a poor teenage orphan who lands in the household of the Mitwissers, refugees from Hitler’s Germany, as an amanuensis who becomes more of a family servant than a secretary. Told primarily from Rosie’s point of view, it is of course the story of this family as well: Professor Mitwisser, an out-of-touch philosopher who lives entirely in some remote and obscure corner of history; his wife Elsa, the madwoman in the attic; their eldest daughter Anneliese, three sons, and the unfortunately named baby Waltrout. Into their lives drifts a mysterious benefactor, heir to an endless stream of money earned by his father from The Bear Boy, a series of world-famous children’s books.
I can’t say Heir is a page-turner, but it’s compelling enough, and Ozick’s writing is flawless. While I doubt the book is strictly autobiographical, I’d bet my typing fingers Ozick based it on her own early experiences as a secretary, having held quite a few equally oddball positions myself.
The best thing about this novel, though, is the ending: it’s been many years since I’ve read a book that so completely satisfied me. Some readers will no doubt think it a bit too tidy, but I’m of the camp that eschews inconclusive denouements. It doesn’t take a prophet to know that every story like life goes on—but I appreciate a book and an author that can deliver the goods in the final pages. Well done, Ms. Ozick!