The Assistantby Bernard Malamud
The Assistant is the story of a penniless drifter who befriends a poor Jewish grocer and falls in love with the grocer's daughter, and finds himself on a path toward self-knowledge, moral renewal and ultimately conversion. Published in 1957, this is the work that made Malamud's reputation as a novelist.See more details below
The Assistant is the story of a penniless drifter who befriends a poor Jewish grocer and falls in love with the grocer's daughter, and finds himself on a path toward self-knowledge, moral renewal and ultimately conversion. Published in 1957, this is the work that made Malamud's reputation as a novelist.
Read an Excerpt
The early November street was dark though night had ended, but thewind, to the grocer's surprise, already clawed. It flung his apron intohis face as he bent for the two milk cases at the curb. Morris Boberdragged the heavy boxes to the door, panting. A large brown bag ofhard rolls stood in the doorway along with the sour-faced, gray-hairedPoilisheh huddled there, who wanted one.
‘‘What's the matter so late?''‘‘Ten after six,'' said the grocer.
‘‘Is cold,'' she complained.
Turning the key in the lock he let her in. Usually he lugged inthe milk and lit the gas radiators, but the Polish woman was impatient.
Morris poured the bag of rolls into a wire basket on the counter andfound an unseeded one for her. Slicing it in halves, he wrapped it inwhite store paper. She tucked the roll into her cord market bag andleft three pennies on the counter. He rang up the sale on an old noisycash register, smoothed and put away the bag the rolls had come in,finished pulling in the milk, and stored the bottles at the bottom ofthe refrigerator. He lit the gas radiator at the front of the store andwent into the back to light the one there.
He boiled up coffee in a blackened enamel pot and sipped it, chewing on a roll, not tasting what he was eating. After he had cleanedup he waited; he waited for Nick Fuso, the upstairs tenant, a youngmechanic who worked in a garage in the neighborhood. Nick came inevery morning around seven for twenty cents' worth of ham and aloaf of bread.
But the front door opened and a girl of ten entered, her facepinched and eyes excited. His heart held no welcome for her.
‘‘My mother says,'' she said quickly,‘‘can you trust her tilltomorrow for a pound of butter, loaf of rye bread and a small bottleof cider vinegar?''
He knew the mother. ‘‘No more trust.''
The girl burst into tears.
Morris gave her a quarter-pound of butter, the bread and vinegar.
He found a penciled spot on the worn counter, near the cashregister, and wrote the sum under ‘‘Drunk Woman.'' The total nowcame to $2.03, which he never hoped to see. But Ida would nag ifshe noticed a new figure, so he reduced the amount to $1.61. Hispeace'the little he lived with'was worth forty-two cents.
He sat in a chair at the round wooden table in the rear of thestore and scanned, with raised brows, yesterday's Jewish paper that hehad already thoroughly read. From time to time he looked absentlythrough the square windowless window cut through the wall, to seeif anybody had by chance come into the store. Sometimes when helooked up from his newspaper, he was startled to see a customerstanding silently at the counter.
Now the store looked like a long dark tunnel.
The grocer sighed and waited. Waiting he did poorly. Whentimes were bad time was bad. It died as he waited, stinking in his nose.
A workman came in for a fifteen-cent can of King Oscar Norwe-giansardines.
Morris went back to waiting. In twenty-one years the store hadchanged little. Twice he had painted all over, once added new shelving.
The old-fashioned double windows at the front a carpenter hadmade into a large single one. Ten years ago the sign hanging outside fell to the ground but he had never replaced it. Once, when businesshit a long good spell, he had had the wooden icebox ripped out anda new white refrigerated showcase put in. The showcase stood at thefront in line with the old counter and he often leaned against it as hestared out of the window. Otherwise the store was the same. Yearsago it was more a delicatessen; now, though he still sold a little delicatessen,it was more a poor grocery.
A half-hour passed. When Nick Fuso failed to appear, Morris gotup and stationed himself at the front window, behind a large card-boarddisplay sign the beer people had rigged up in an otherwiseempty window. After a while the hall door opened, and Nick cameout in a thick, hand-knitted green sweater. He trotted around thecorner and soon returned carrying a bag of groceries. Morris was nowvisible at the window. Nick saw the look on his face but didn't looklong. He ran into the house, trying to make it seem it was the windthat was chasing him. The door slammed behind him, a loud door.
The grocer gazed into the street. He wished fleetingly that hecould once more be out in the open as when he was a boy'never inthe house, but the sound of the blustery wind frightened him. Hethought again of selling the store but who would buy? Ida still hopedto sell. Every day she hoped. The thought caused him grimly to smile,although he did not feel like smiling. It was an impossible idea so hetried to put it out of his mind. Still, there were times when he wentinto the back, poured himself a spout of coffee and pleasantly thoughtof selling. Yet if he miraculously did, where would he go, where? Hehad a moment of uneasiness as he pictured himself without a roof overhis head. There he stood in all kinds of weather, drenched in rain, andthe snow froze on his head. No, not for an age had he lived a wholeday in the open. As a boy, always running in the muddy, rutted streetsof the village, or across the fields, or bathing with the other boys inthe river; but as a man, in America, he rarely saw the sky. In the earlydays when he drove a horse and wagon, yes, but not since his firststore. In a store you were entombed.The Assistant. Copyright © by Bernard Malamud. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >