The UK title is “The Bear Boy,” the French one Un monde vacillant (“A Shifting World”), variety that helps suggest just how many takes this novel offers, and that multi-layered theming is central to its complex, highly cerebral author.
Heir focuses 1935, when, along with our passive narrator, eighteen-year-old Rose Meadows, we enter the desolate Bronx household of the large Witmesser family, Nazi-persecuted Jews who fled their shattered past to an America in the Great Depression. With rapid prose weave Ozick assembles a wild cast of characters-eccentric scholars, French governess, a fabled fictional Bear Boy come to adulthood, destructive fathers, even an exotic and improbable suitor for Rose- and through them completes the portrait of massive failure in both American and European society.
Perhaps Ozick believed the passive-narrator device useful to her wide-angle lens here. Unfortunately self-effacing Rose never convinces. A small minus to an otherwise ironic panorama of the collapse of systems and values.