Malamud: Novels and Stories of the 1940s & 50s
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". . .a significant portrayal of human nature and historical events. . ."
The Library of America’s retrospective two-volume release by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bernard Malamud rekindles and keeps in print one of American’s most talented 20th-century authors. Although his name is not the most recognized, he is often remembered for two movies adapted from his novels.
Malamud’s genius was noted with release of his first novel in the 1940s, “The Natural,” an introspective view into the suffering of Roy Hobbs, a gifted and sly baseball player who with his handmade bat, “Wonder Boy,” turned the baseball team from Buffalo, New York, into a big winner. Malamud details with startling emotional insight the anguish of a failed man who desires a better life.
The themes of hardship and punishment for seeking more in life continue into the 1960s with his novel, “The Fixer,” which won Malamud the Pulitzer. This dark mystery laced with parables and filled with intrigue is impossible to put down. The story evolves around Yakov Bog, a Russian Jew, who “wants better, a least better than he had had, too much of nothing.” He accepts a job in a neighborhood where Jews are forbidden to live, in Kiev during Czarist Russia around 1911. Bog is accused of the ritual murder of a gentile young boy and for years is held prisoner, much in isolation, as officials attempt to extract a confession. Malamud’s vivid description of acts of torture helps understand why the author said the novel “nearly killed me.”
Unlike his early work in the first volume, “Novels and Stories of the 1940s & 50s,” which are extremely descriptive with strong character development, the second volume with works from the 1960s reveal Malamud’s satire and humor. His novel, “A New Life,” a story about a flawed idealist who lands a job as a professor at a university, reflects Malamud’s own similar experience.
In one of his final short stories (the two volumes include 30 short stories), his writing is highly compressed and limited primarily to dialogue. In “My Son the Murderer,” two voices run parallel, depicting a father’s and son’s inability to connect emotionally.
Malamud’s writing is often biographical. He, like Bog in “The Fixer,” was born Jewish, but both identified themselves as “humanist” or agnostic. Malamud similarly was acquainted with mental illness. His mother died in a mental institution and his brother, with whom Malamud had a close relationship, was also diagnosed with mental illness.
Malamud’s novels and short stories render a significant portrayal of human nature and historical events, each story with its own unique plot. It’s a belated but welcome treat to have them once again available.
Reviewer: Kate Padilla