“A French Doll”
by Cynthia Ozick
from the July 31, 2023 issue of The New Yorker
Cynthia Ozick is 95 years old, folks, and here she is with another story for The New Yorker. I don’t think we deserve it, but I’ll gratefully accept! I loved her most recent novella, Antiquities, and I’m glad it wasn’t her last new work.
I always love how I feel I’m in a good hands when I start one of her stories:
The music came down the hall from a door marked 3-C in one of those neighborhood clusters of five-story walkups, which some years later a brutish city planner would raze in favor of an imperial highway. It was not a radio or a needle wobbling on a turntable; it was living notes cascading from piano keys, and it was temperamental. Sometimes it bleated meekly, hesitantly; sometimes it raged, like scales gone berserk. The piano was mainly in need of tuning. Sometimes you heard it, sometimes not. Coming home from school at three o’clock in the afternoon, I would now and then set my knapsack down on the zigzag tile floor in front of that door and listen, not to the music but to its absence. I pressed my ear hard against the peephole until it seemed to me that someone on the other side was breathing, exhaling with an odd little groan—or was it the faint inmost rumble of my own heartbeat? An inch above the peephole was a slot with the name Isidore Atlas.
“A French Doll” is super short, so I’m excited to find the perfect reading space and time to settle in.