Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life [NOOK Book]

Overview

Philip Davis tells the story of Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), the self-made son of poor Jewish immigrants who went on to become one of the foremost novelists and short-story writers of the post-war period. The time is ripe for a revival of interest in a man who at the peak of his success stood alongside Saul Bellow and Philip Roth in the ranks of Jewish American writers.

Nothing came easily to Malamud: his family was poor, his mother probably ...
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Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life

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Overview

Philip Davis tells the story of Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), the self-made son of poor Jewish immigrants who went on to become one of the foremost novelists and short-story writers of the post-war period. The time is ripe for a revival of interest in a man who at the peak of his success stood alongside Saul Bellow and Philip Roth in the ranks of Jewish American writers.

Nothing came easily to Malamud: his family was poor, his mother probably committed suicide when Malamud was 14, and his younger brother inherited her schizophrenia. Malamud did everything the second time round - re-using his life in his writing, even as he revised draft after draft. Davis's meticulous biography shows all that it meant for this man to be a writer in terms of both the uses of and the costs to his own life. It also restores Bernard Malamud's literary reputation as one of the great
original voices of his generation, a writer of superb subtlety and clarity.

Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life benefits from Philip Davis's exclusive interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, unfettered access to private journals and letters, and detailed analysis of Malamud's working methods through the examination of hitherto unresearched manuscripts. It is very much a writer's life. It is also the story of a struggling emotional man, using an extraordinary but long-worked-for gift, in order to give meaning to ordinary human life.
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Editorial Reviews

Lee Siegel
…[a] wise, scrupulous, resolutely admiring biography…Davis is out to remove the slur of moral uptightness and narrow virtue from Malamud's reputation. Gratifyingly, he wants to restore him to the pantheon of great American writers in which Malamud, in our flash-in-the-pan culture, once belonged.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

On his first day of teaching composition at Oregon State College in 1949, Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) told his class, "It has been brought to my attention that many of you people here today are practicing celibacy. I have nothing against this practice and will not penalize you for it." This note of almost delightful silliness (or weird social inappropriateness) stands out in this important, thorough and at times compelling biography-the first ever of the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. That scene stands out against the ordinariness of Malamud's life, which was essentially dedicated to work, though he had a more-or-less happy marriage (not without infidelities) and two children. This is at times more a literary analysis than a strict biography, as Davis, a professor of English literature at Liverpool University, strives to connect Malamud's life to his work: how the writer's preoccupation with his father's Brooklyn grocery, for example, is reflected in The Assistant. There is some fascinating background: wanting to write a novel about social injustice, Malamud considered the Sacco and Vanzetti and Caryl Chessman cases before settling on the blood libel case of Mendel Beilis, in The Fixer. Davis places Malamud in the context of American and Jewish-American literature, but this is written in a style that will appeal more to scholars than the general public. 32 b&w illus. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Bernard Malamud (1914-86) was one of America's major post-World War II Jewish writers. Here, Davis (English literature, Liverpool Univ.; The Victorians, 1830-1880) does an excellent job describing the interrelation between Malamud's difficult life and his profound art. He gives a careful and honest account of Malamud's upbringing (his mother and brother both suffered from mental illness), his early poverty, and his complicated marriage and clearly describes Malamud's dedication to his art and his desire to be a good and moral person. He further examines Malamud's short stories and novels (e.g., The Natural; The Assistant; The Fixer) for themes, ideas, and symbols. In an important contribution, Davis shows Malamud's drafts at various stages of completion, explaining how Malamud created his style through the development of structure, language, and rhythm. This first full-length biography of the author, for which Davis drew on private journals and letters and interviewed many of Malamud's family members, friends, and colleagues, is a wonderful addition to Malamud studies; recommended for literature collections.
—Gene Shaw

From the Publisher

"Wise, scrupulous, resolutely admiring.... Davis is out to remove the slur of moral uptightness and narrow virtue from Malamud's reputation. Gratifyingly, he wants to restore him to the pantheon of great American writers in which Malamud, in our flash-in-the-pan culture, once belonged."--Lee Siegel, New York Times Book Review

"A wonderfully readable, illuminating and entertaining biography. It is rare that a biographer succeeds in evoking, with a novelists skill, such compassion for his (flawed, human) subject; yet more rare, that a biographer succeeds in so drawing the reader into the shimmering world he has constructed out of a small infinity of letters, drafts, notes, manuscripts, printed texts, interview transcripts etc, that the barrier between reader and subject becomes near-transparent."--Joyce Carol Oates, Times Literary Supplement

"Davis is frequently insightful."--Mark Oppenheimer, Wall Street Journal

"Mr. Davis has succeeded in evoking a human being who is interesting in and of himself, quite apart from his literary output. Davis has an understanding of Malamud, the world in which he grew up and that in which he lived his adult life, which is all but flawless in its perceptions and insights."--Martin Rubin, Washington Times

"Davis's book is laudable."--Ben Naparstek, Financial Times

"[A] magnificent labour of love. A triumphant vindication of the art of biography."--Clive Sinclair, Jewish Quarterly

"Excellent...I was impressed with Davis's treatment of the life and the work, and particularly intrigued by his take on Malamud's rapport with Philip Roth, one of the novelist's harshest critics and deepest admirers."--Rachel Donadio, New York Times "Paper Cuts"

"Davis' profound affinity for his subject shapes every discerning paragraph, as do his unprecedented conversations with Malamud's family and colleagues and access to private papers. Matching enthusiastic research with fluent empathy and keen aesthetic understanding, Davis grasps the resonance of Malamud's mother's mental illness and his father's lonely struggle in his humble grocery store while insightfully chronicling Malamud's marriage and teaching career. Wisely eschewing the quotidian, Davis illuminates Malamud's utter devotion to writing."--Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Davis offers an intimate portrait of Malamud's various 'lives' More important, Davis shows the enormous labor of revision that Malamud's art entailed." --Donald Weber, Bookforum

"In all, this is a highly readable, informative, and enjoyable volume on an important literary figure." --Jewish Book World

"A revealing portrait of a compelling writer." --Jewish Chronicle

"Unlike many literary biographies in which a writer's work gets lost in the attention to the external events of the life, Davis's biography focuses on Malamud's life mainly as it illuminates the process by which the plots, the sentences and the paragraphs of the stories and novels come into existence It inspired me." --Eugene Goodheart, Moment

"What Davis's biography helps us understand is how Malamud made use of his life's experiences: It deepens one's appreciation of his stories and novels by demonstrating how he transmuted his experience into art." --Joseph Epstein, Weekly Standard

"This biography may help to refurbish Malamud's position as a major American Jewish writer." --Dr. Morton I. Teicher, Jewish Advocate

"Philip Davis's biography of Bernard Malamud is everything a writer hopes to find in the biography of a great writer. Davis is a great reader, and he sees where Malamud's writings are coming from." --A. S. Byatt, The Guardian

"Philip Davis' most remarkable achievement is to have reconstructed Malamud's writing life out of the layers of manuscripts and drafts of his works. He makes you want to reread slowly the works you probably raced thorugh years ago I don't know of any biography of a literary person that pays this much attention to style and does it so well."--Dean Flower, The Hudson Review

"A sensitive yet probing biography." --Ruth Franklin, New York Sun

"Philip Davis' biography...succeeds in giving us a writer who, like his creations, managed to elicit extraordinary resonance by drawing the bow of language across the strings of an ordinary, small--and often somber--life."--Haaretz

"A wonderful addition to Malamud studies; recommended for literature collections."--Library Journal

"Fascinating."--Publishers Weekly

"Davis's book is laudable, if not always engrossing, for its refusal to glibly psychologize or strike false epiphanies to make Malamud's life read like fiction. It is fortunate that Davis's biography has arrived."--Jerusalem Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780191608438
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford
  • Publication date: 9/13/2007
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 1,271,443
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Philip Davis is Professor of English Literature at Liverpool University. He has been reading Malamud for over thirty years.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
THE FIRST LIFE
1. The Inheritance
2. The Long Adolescence
THE SECOND LIFE
3. Oregon
4. The Assistant
5. 'Because I Can'
THE THIRD LIFE
6. The Beginning of the Middle Years
7. 'We need some sort of poverty in our lives'
8. From The Fixer towards Dubin
9. Dubin's Lives
IN HIS LAST LIFE
10. 'As you are grooved so you are graved'

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