This books begins in some charming ways, struggles throughout to maintain some of that early sensibility, but ends strongly with a long section that I enjoyed a lot. Bits and pieces of the rest are simultaneously interesting and conflictingly boring.
So the book begins with the record and cataloging of the life of Ruth Puttermesser, a lawyer at a good firm who mostly stays out of the way/is unseen. She avers her mother’s advice to simply get married, has a lover she likes, but doesn’t love, and seeks moderate ambition. She’s 34 and thinks her life is more or less just fine. She gets appointed to a city civic post, but is ousted by an incoming manager who replaces her with a friend of his. Being ousted from a job she wasn’t sure she wanted inspires her to begin a letter-writing campaign to the mayor, and through strange circumstances she is elected mayor. She then fills up every city posting with poets, borrowing a lot of money in the meantime.
So this should all sound a little fantastic, and it is. This book is a strange metafictional, fantastical, magical realist meditation on life, especially on the life of women not defined through motherhood or marriage.
In the next section, continuing these ideas, she decides to make herself a daughter, who will be a housekeeper too in way, by creating a golem from the dirt in the houseplants. This works!
A huge time jump passes in the end of the novel and we close with Ruth thinking through her connections to famous literary heroines who were completely screwed over by the men they ended up with. She sees her life as a suitable alternative to their messes.