Novels and Stories of the 1960s
A New Life • The Fixer • Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition • ten stories
“My writing has drawn, out of a reluctant soul, a measure of astonishment at the nature of life. . . . I wanted my writing to be as good as it must be, and on the whole I think it is. I would write a book, or a short story, at least three times—once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.”—Bernard Malamud
“Read now,” Philip Roth has observed, “you see that Bernard Malamud has more than a little in common with Beckett—the eerie clowning, the magic barrel of unadorned prose, the haunting melancholy of stories about ‘things you can’t get past.’ For me, as a young writer of the next generation starting out in the 1950s—and trying to lay claim to my own Jewish material—his fiction, along with Saul Bellow’s, meant the world.” With this second volume, The Library of America continues a three-volume edition celebrating the distinctive genius of one of postwar America’s most important and original writers.
In 1949, Bernard Malamud accepted a teaching position at Oregon State University and moved from his native New York City to the Pacific Northwest. His experience over the following decade deeply informed the writing of A New Life (1961), a satiric campus novel that takes aim at the insularity, backbiting, and intellectual pettiness of academia. At its center is Seymour Levin, a naive idealist whose initiation into the ivory tower leads to his entanglement in a departmental power struggle and an emotionally wrenching affair with a colleague’s wife. By turns comic and lyrical, A New Life “may still be undervalued,” writes Jonathan Lethem, “as Malamud’s funniest and most embracing novel.”
The Fixer (1966) marked a turn for Malamud into the realm of historical fiction. Set during the twilight years of czarist Russia, the novel tells the story of Yakov Bok, a Jewish handyman who leaves his village to find work in Kiev, only to be arrested and charged with the murder of a twelve-year-old boy, purportedly for use in a Jewish ritual. A dramatization of the infamous blood-libel accusations unleashed against Jews over centuries of European history, Malamud’s novel is also an exploration of one man’s transformation under the extreme duress of imprisonment. Malamud won his second National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for The Fixer in 1967.
The picaresque novel Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition (1969) is one of Malamud’s most exuberant creations: a series of tales about a self-described failed artist adrift in Italy. More freewheeling than much of Malamud’s other fiction, the collection shows a playfulness and a willingness to experiment that accords with the restlessness and curiosity of its hero. The ten stories from the 1960s gathered in this volume show Malamud at the height of his powers as a storyteller. Among them are the hallucinatory comedy of “The Jewbird” and the pathos of “The German Refugee” and the long story “Man in the Drawer.” As the novelist Robert Stone has said of the stories: “Like Chekhov’s, [they] are edifying in their tragic sense and delightful in their comedy, which seems to be the most we can ask of fiction.”
Philip Davis, editor, is the author of the definitive biography Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life (2007). He is the editor of The Reader magazine and Professor of English Literature and Director of the Centre for Research into Reading, Information and Linguistic Systems at the University of Liverpool.
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