The Complete Stories

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Overview

New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1997

With an Introduction by Robert Giroux, The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud is "an essential American book," Richard Stern declared in the Chicago Tribune when the collection was published in hardcover. His praise was echoed by other reviewers and by readers, who embraced the book as they might a displaced person in one of Malamud's stories, now returned to us, ...

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Overview

New York Times Notable Book of the Year

Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1997

With an Introduction by Robert Giroux, The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud is "an essential American book," Richard Stern declared in the Chicago Tribune when the collection was published in hardcover. His praise was echoed by other reviewers and by readers, who embraced the book as they might a displaced person in one of Malamud's stories, now returned to us, complete and fulfilled and recognized at last. The volume gathers together fifty-five stories, from "Armistice" (1940) to "Alma Redeemed" (1984), and including the immortal stories from The Magic Barrel and the vivid depictions of the unforgettable Fidelman. It is a varied and generous collection of great examples of the modern short story, which Malamud perfected, and an ideal introduction to the work of this great American writer.

New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
One of the best american short-story writers of this century. -Jay Cantor, the New York Times

Glittering gems that dazzle with a different splor with each turn in the light, these stories ask timeless questions even as they enchant. -Dan Cryer, Newsday

Jay Cantor
Malamud [is], I think, one of the best American short story writers of this century. He reminds me, strangely enough, of the impeccable Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor, one of Bern's true colleagues (and his admirer), for they share the sense that eternities always focus down to this moment, this choice: will one do justice to those close to us, here, now?
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
From 1940 (when he published 'Armistice,' the story of a Brooklyn grocer's reaction to the fall of Paris) until the last of his experimental 'fictive biographies,' published in 1984, Malamud (The Natural; The Fixer) created hundreds of characters who were ordinary people involved in impossible situations. Malamud began as a dialect writer -- one of the first to explain to the affluent, assimilated children and grandchildren of the second great wave of Jewish migration what they had left, or failed to leave, behind in the shtetls of Europe and New York. Himself the son of a late-night grocer, Malamud gave us what may be literature's first convenience stores; and, in his prose and dialogue, he captured with loving grace the dying rhythms and flourishes natural to Yiddish. In later stories, he came into his true subject, the cult of art under the pressures of late modernism: some of his best (and funniest) tales chronicle the Italian wanderings of Arthur Fidelman, failed painter, hopeless lover and mythically misadventurous schlemiel, as he bounces from city to city, getting kidnapped, buggered, robbed, killed, revived, seduced and, perpetually, haunted by the masterworks of the past. Like his humble hero, Malamud kept at his art, sometimes writing in step with the vanguard and at others spitting into the wind of fashion. As these 55 stories show, he was at every stage of his life an exciting storyteller from sentence to sentence, even word to word. None of his many imitators has matched his instinct for the perfectly appropriate, if seemingly offhand, surprise. Already revered for his novels and a few anthology pieces, Malamud should win a new generation of readers with this wonderful, posthumous collection.
Library Journal - Amy Boaz
Malamud, who died in 1986, is perhaps better known for his novels (The Natural; The Fixer) than for his short stories, though these he published abundantly in collections over the years (e.g., The Stories of Bernard Malamud). Giroux, Malamud's longtime editor, publisher, and friend, who put together this evident labor of love, quotes Flannery O'Connor on Malamud: 'I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself.' Many of these stories treat the dead-end lot of working-class Jews ('The Cost of Living') or the thwarted aspirations of the artist Fidelman in Italy ('A Pimp's Revenge'). Appearing in the order in which they were written (rather than published), the 55 stories span his first, 'The Armistice' (1940), until his last experimental biography of Virginia Woolf. Displayed thus, Malamud's skill is consistently sound, effected quietly through disciplined pacing and dignified characters.
Library Journal
Library Journal - Amy Boaz
Malamud, who died in 1986, is perhaps better known for his novels (The Natural; The Fixer) than for his short stories, though these he published abundantly in collections over the years (e.g., The Stories of Bernard Malamud). Giroux, Malamud's longtime editor, publisher, and friend, who put together this evident labor of love, quotes Flannery O'Connor on Malamud: 'I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself.' Many of these stories treat the dead-end lot of working-class Jews ('The Cost of Living') or the thwarted aspirations of the artist Fidelman in Italy ('A Pimp's Revenge'). Appearing in the order in which they were written (rather than published), the 55 stories span his first, 'The Armistice' (1940), until his last experimental biography of Virginia Woolf. Displayed thus, Malamud's skill is consistently sound, effected quietly through disciplined pacing and dignified characters.
Library Journal
Richard Gilman
What makes his place in literature and in our memory secure isn't his themes or subjects. It isn't his nobility of purpose, his compassion or moral understanding, in short, his humanism.…It is their discovery, against all odds, and the shocks and surprises of the unfolding tale. The imagination teaches us newly.
The New Republic
Jonathan Yardley
Such is the nature of Malamud's gift that a fiction rooted in the celebration—yes, celebration—of suffering is in no way joyless…It glows with laughter and love, and never more so than in his short stories…[He has] a high and honored place among American writers.
The Washington Post Book World
Robert Alter
His real gift is for the short story, for the spare, regressed etching of solitary figures caught in the stress of adversity…His stories will be read as long as anyone continues to care about American fiction written in the twentieth century.
The New York Times Book Review
Jay Cantor
Malamud [is], I think, one of the best American short story writers of this century. He reminds me, strangely enough, of the impeccable Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor, one of Bern's true colleagues (and his admirer), for they share the sense that eternities always focus down to this moment, this choice: will one do justice to those close to us, here, now?
The New York Times
Robert Stone
To have this much of Malamud available in one volume is something like a guilty pleasure. . .His stories, like Chekhov's, are edifying in their tragic sense and delightful in their comedy, which seems to be the most we can ask of fiction.
The Times Literary Supplement
Walter Goodman
"Is morality a necessary part of fiction?" one of his characters asks. The answer , in Malamud's revelatory work, remains a resounding yes.
The New York Times Book Review
Dan Cryer
Glittering gems that dazzle with a different splendor with each turn in the light, these stories ask timeless questions even as they enchant.
Newsday
Richard Stern
An essential American book.
Chicago Tribune Book
Richard Bernstein
Malamud grips the reader as tightly as a vise, his vision as honest, unsparing and tender as the gods.
The New York Times
Kirkus Reviews
A generous, invaluable volume that collects the 53 stories published during his 40-year career by a master of both realism and surrealism, a writer who begins to look more and more like one of the very best modern American writers. This differs from the earlier Stories in including the total contents of such acclaimed (and award-winning) collections as The Magic Barrel, as well as several early efforts (of which the forgotten 'Armistice' is especially impressive), and a scattering of others retrieved from the magazines in which they originally appeared. An unmistakable voice, terse and ironic while simultaneously colloquial urban-Jewish, sounds throughout these rich tales, which manage to be remarkably varied despite their emphasis on Malamud's trademark themes of victimization and loneliness. The exceptions are several sardonically amusing portrayals of the scapegrace flawed artist Arthur Fidelman, and the late, complex 'fictive biographies' of such subjects as Virginia Woolf and Alma Mahler ('In Kew Gardens' and 'Alma Redeemed,' respectively) that seem to have developed out of his 1979 novel, Dublin's Lives. But the essential Malamud is found in his moving studies of the claims of charity and the consequences of acknowledging or denying one's kinship with others ('Idiots First,' 'Take Pity'), and more specifically of Jews unable to escape their heritage and its responsibilities ('Man in the Drawer,' 'The Last Mohican'). On another level, the imperatives of belonging are ingeniously rendered in such celebrated fantasies as 'Angel Levine,' 'The Jewbird,' and 'The Silver Crown,' an overlooked story that is one of Malamud's greatest. Even readers who think they knowhis work well may be surprised at how powerfully some of the lesser known stories continue to resonate ('The Bill' and the moving 'Rembrandt's Hat'are exemplary). A landmark book that belongs on the same shelf with the collected stories of John Cheever and Issac Bashevis Singer. 'Believe me, there are Jews everywhere,' intones a representative Malamud character. Believe me, we believe him.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374525750
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/12/1998
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 345,892
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Bernard Malamud

Acclaimed for his short stories, Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) received two National Book Awards (for The Magic Barrel and the novel The Fixer) and the Pulitzer Prize (for The Fixer). A native of Brooklyn, he taught for many years at Bennington College.

Biography

Bernard Malamud (1914-1986), perhaps more than any Jewish-American author in the twentieth century, including Saul Bellow, translated the literature of the Eastern European shtetl to the streets of America. So carefully written, so diligently constructed, are his stories and novels that one could erringly view them as narratives that represent a certain current of "Jewish" writing, or as period pieces. Upon numerous re-readings of his many works, the exact opposite feeling is engendered. This is one of the most profound literati of our age, and his contributions will surely transcend the earthly time in which they were written.

Because of the reconstruction of The Natural (1952) as a movie with a happy ending, belying the bitter pill swallowed by slugger Roy Hobbs at the end of the book, Malamud's popularity has enjoyed a revival, particularly for elevating the game of baseball - already an American fantasy - to the realm of mythos. The truth was that true to his literary forebears, I.L. Peretz and Sholom Aleichem, Malamud's reliance upon myth, legend, and magic often helped convey the most intimate details of existence, and consequently, life's pathos and sadness as much as life's joy and fulfillment. Malamud explicated the tragic role of the Jew in many of his stories, including The Fixer (1966), which won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and later was adapted into a motion picture. That novel was based on the true story of Mendel Beilis, victim of the Kiev Blood Libel of 1913.

The stories are marked by a faithfulness to accent and tone that lends an unmistakable reality to every sentence and idea Malamud chose to set forth. The Magic Barrel (1954) is the diadem of his many short pieces. The sufferings of a rabbinic student, Leo Finkle, and his heroic but ungainly attempt to turn his life inside out, as he grasps desperately with his forlorn search for a marriage partner, are wrenching and inexpressibly moving. Suffering is Malamud's focus, and no author probed the subject more intensely.

The crowning literary achievement for Malamud came with the publication of The Assistant (1957). Again, mixing myth with reality, a virtual monk, Morris Bober, a grocer, welcomes into his ÒcellÓ the itinerant ne'er-do-well, Frank Alpine, whose initials most surely stand for the wonder-worker, St. Francis of Assisi. In the strictness of his prose, Malamud reshapes the grocery into a kind of Jewish monastery, as Frank, the repentant, becomes Morris's disciple in training for a new vocation. At a certain point in his novitiate, Frank asks Morris: "Tell me why it is that Jews suffer so much? It seems to me that they like to suffer, don't they?" Morris answers: "Do you like to suffer? They suffer because they are Jews." Frank responds: "That's what I mean, they suffer more than they have to." Morris replies: "If you live, you suffer. Some people suffer more, but not because they want. But I think if a Jew don't suffer for the Law, he will suffer for nothing. What do you suffer for Morris?" said Frank. "I suffer for you," Morris said calmly. "What do you mean?" asked Frank. "I mean you suffer for me."

The aching reality. The underlying mythos. The seeming simplicity. All point to the immeasurable depth of a master artisan and artist whose literary bequest remains one of the Jewish community's most priceless possessions.

Author biography courtesy of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      April 28, 1914
    2. Place of Birth:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      March 18, 1986
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., City College of New York, 1936; M.A., Columbia University, 1942

Read an Excerpt

Armistice

When he was a boy, Morris Lieberman saw a burly Russian peasant seize a wagon wheel that was lying against the side of a blacksmith's shop, swing it around, and hurl it at a fleeing Jewish sexton. The wheel caught the Jew in the back, crushing his spine. In speechless terror, he lay on the ground before his burning house, waiting to die.

Thirty years later Morris, a widower who owned a small grocery and delicatessen store in a Scandinavian neighborhood in Brooklyn, could recall the scene of the pogrom with the twisting fright that he had felt at fifteen. He often experienced the same fear since the Nazis had come to power.

The reports of their persecution of the Jews that he heard over the radio filled him with dread, but he never stopped listening to them. His fourteen-year-old son, Leonard, a thin, studious boy, saw how overwrought his father became and tried to shut off the radio, but the grocer would not allow him to. He listened, and at night did not sleep, because in listening he shared the woes inflicted upon his race.

When the war began, Morris placed his hope for the salvation of the Jews in his trust of the French army. He lived close to his radio, listening to the bulletins and praying for a French victory in the conflict which he called "this righteous war."

On the May day in 1940 when the Germans ripped open the French lines at Sedan, his long-growing anxiety became intolerable. Between waiting on customers, or when he was preparing salads in the kitchen at the rear of the store, he switched on the radio and heard, with increasing dismay, the flood of reports which never seemed to contain any good news. The Belgians surrendered. The British retreated at Dunkerque, and in mid-June, the Nazis, speeding toward Paris in their lorries, were passing large herds of conquered Frenchmen resting in the fields.

Day after day, as the battle progressed, Morris sat on the edge of the cot in the kitchen listening to the additions to his sorrow, nodding his head the way the Jews do in mourning, then rousing himself to hope for the miracle that would save the French as it had saved the Jews in the wilderness. At three o'clock, he shut off the radio, because Leonard came home from school about then. The boy, seeing the harmful effect of the war on his father's health, had begun to plead with him not to listen to so many news broadcasts, and Morris pacified him by pretending that he no longer thought of the war. Each afternoon Leonard remained behind the counter while his father slept on the cot. From the dream-filled, raw sleep of these afternoons, the grocer managed to derive enough strength to endure the long day and his own bitter thoughts.

The salesmen from the wholesale grocery houses and the drivers who served Morris were amazed at the way he suffered. They told him that the war had nothing to do with America and that he was taking it too seriously. Some of the others made him the object of their ridicule outside the store. One of them, Gus Wagner, who delivered the delicatessen meats and provisions, was not afraid to laugh at Morris to his face.

Gus was a heavy man, with a strong, full head and a fleshy face. Although born in America, and a member of the AEF in 1918, his imagination was fired by the Nazi conquests and he believed that they had the strength and power to conquer the world. He kept a scrapbook filled with clippings and pictures of the German army. He was deeply impressed by the Panzer divisions, and when he read accounts of battles in which they tore through the enemy's lines, his mind glowed with excitement. He did not reveal his feelings directly because he considered his business first. As it was, he poked fun at the grocer for wanting the French to win.

Each afternoon, with his basket of liverwursts and bolognas on his arm, Gus strode into the store and swung the basket onto the table in the kitchen. The grocer as usual was sitting on the cot, listening to the radio.

"Hello, Morris," Gus said, pretending surprise. "What does it say on the radio?" He sat down heavily and laughed.

When things were going especially well for the Germans, Gus dropped his attitude of pretense and said openly, "You better get used to it, Morris. The Germans will wipe out the Frenchman."

Morris disliked these remarks, but he said nothing. He allowed Gus to talk as he did because he had known the meat man for nine years. Once they had nearly been friends. After the death of Morris's wife four years ago, Gus stayed longer than usual and joined Morris in a cup of coffee. Occasionally he repaired a hole in the screen door or fixed the plug for the electric slicing machine.

Leonard had driven them apart. The boy disliked the meat man and always tried to avoid him. He was nauseated by Gus' laughter, which he called a cackle, and he would not allow his father to do business with Gus in the kitchen when he was having his milk and crackers after school.

Gus knew how the boy felt about him and he was deeply annoyed. He was angered too when the boy added up the figures on the meat bills and found errors. Gus was careless in arithmetic, which often caused trouble. Once Morris mentioned a five-dollar prize that Leonard had won in mathematics and Gus said, "You better watch out, Morris. He's a skinny kid. If he studies too much, he'll get consumption."

Morris was frightened. He felt that Gus was wishing harm upon Leonard. Their relations became cooler, and after that Gus spoke more freely about politics and the war, often expressing his contempt for the French.

The Germans took Paris and pushed on toward the west and south. Morris, drained of his energy, prayed that the ordeal would soon be over. Then the Reynaud cabinet fell. Marshal Petain addressed a request to the Germans for "peace with honor." In the dark Compiegne forest, Hitler sat in Marshal Foch's railroad car, listening to his terms being read to the French delegation.

That night, after closing his store, Morris disconnected the radio and carried it upstairs. In his bedroom, the door shut tightly so Leonard would not be awakened, he tuned in softly to the midnight broadcast and learned that the French had accepted Hitler's terms and would sign the armistice tomorrow. Morris shut off the radio. An age-old weariness filled him. He wanted to sleep but he knew that he could not.

Morris turned out the lights, removed his shirt and shoes in the dark, and sat smoking in the large bedroom that had once belonged to him and his wife.

The door opened softly, and Leonard looked into the room. By the light of the street lamp which shone through the window, the boy could see his father in the chair. It made him think of the time when his mother was in the hospital and his father sat in the chair all night.

Leonard entered the bedroom in his bare feet. "Pa," he said, putting his arm around his father's shoulders, "go to sleep."

"I can't sleep, Leonard."

"Pa, you got to. You work sixteen hours."

"Oh, my son," cried Morris, with sudden emotion, putting his arms around Leonard, "what will become of us?"

The boy became afraid.

"Pa," he said, "go to sleep. Please, you got to."

"All right, I'll go," said Morris. He crushed his cigarette in the ashtray and got into bed. The boy watched him until he turned over on his right side, which was the side he slept on; then he returned to his room.

Later Morris rose and sat by the window, looking into the street. The night was cool. The breeze swayed the street lamp, which creaked and moved the circle of light that fell upon the street.

"What will become of us?" he muttered to himself. His mind went back to the days when he was a boy studying Jewish history. The Jews lived in an interminable exodus. Long lines trudged forever with their bundles on their shoulders.

He dozed and dreamed that he had fled from Germany into France. The Nazis had found out where he lived in Paris. He sat in a chair in a dark room waiting for them to come. His hair had grown grayer. The moonlight fell on his sloping shoulders, then moved into the darkness. He rose and climbed out onto a ledge overlooking the lighted city of Paris. He fell. Something clumped to the sidewalk. Morris groaned and awoke. He heard the purring of a truck's motor and he knew that the driver was dropping the bundles of morning newspapers in front of the stationery store on the corner.

The dark was soft with gray. Morris crawled into bed and began to dream again. It was Sunday at suppertime. The store was crowded with customers. Suddenly Gus was there. He waved a copy of Social Justice and cried out, "The Protocols of Zion! The Protocols of Zion!" The customers began to leave. "Gus," Morris pleaded, "the customers, the customers--"

He awoke shivering and lay awake until the alarm rang.

After he had dragged in the bread and milk boxes and had waited on the deaf man who always came early, Morris went to the corner for a paper. The armistice was signed. Morris looked around to see if the street had changed, but everything was the same, though he could hardly understand why. Leonard came down for his coffee and roll. He took fifty cents from the till and left for school.

The day was warm and Morris was tired. He grew uneasy when he thought of Gus. He knew that today he would have difficulty controlling himself if Gus made some of his remarks.

At three o'clock, when Morris was slicing small potatoes for potato salad, Gus strode into the store and swung his basket onto the table.

"Well, Morris"--he laughed--"why don't you turn the radio on? Let's hear the news."

Morris tried to control himself, but his bitterness overcame him. "I see you're happy today, Gus. What great cause has died?"

The meat man laughed, but he did not like that remark.

"Come on, Morris," he said, "let's do business before your skinny kid comes home and wants the bill signed by a certified public accountant."

"He looks out for my interests," answered Morris. "He's a good mathematics student," he added.

"That's the sixth time I heard that," said Gus.

"You'll never hear it about your children."

Gus lost his temper. "What the hell's the, matter with you Jews?" he asked. "Do you think you own all the brains in the world?"

"Gus," Morris cried, "you talk like a Nazi."

"I'm a hundred percent American. I fought in the war," answered Gus.

Leonard came into the store and heard the loud voices. He ran into the kitchen and saw the two men arguing. A feeling of shame and nausea overcame him.

"Pa," he begged, "don't fight."

Morris was still angry. "If you're not a Nazi," he said to Gus, "why are you so glad the French lost?"

"Who's glad?" asked Gus. Suddenly he felt proud and he said, "They deserved to lose, the way they starved the German people. Why the hell do you want them to win?"

"Pa," said Leonard again.

"I want them to win because they are fighting for democracy."

"Like hell," said Gus. "You want them to win because they're protecting the Jews--like that lousy Leon Blum."

"You Nazi, you," Morris shouted angrily, coming from behind the table. "You Nazi! You don't deserve to live in America!"

"Papa," cried Leonard, holding him, "don't fight, please, please."

"Mind your own business, you little bastard," said Gus, pushing Leonard away.

A sob broke from Leonard's throat. He began to cry.

Gus paused, seeing that he had gone too far.

Morris Lieberman's face was white. He put his arm around the boy and kissed him again and again.

"No, no. No more, Leonard. Don't cry. I'm sorry. I give you my word. No more."

Gus looked on without speaking. His face was still red with anger, but he was afraid that he would lose Morris's business. He pulled two liverwursts and a bologna from his basket.

"The meat's on the table," he said. "Pay me tomorrow."

Gus glanced contemptuously at the grocer comforting his son, who was quiet now, and he walked out of the store. He threw the basket into his truck, got in, and drove off.

As he rode amid the cars on the avenue, he thought of the boy crying and his father holding him. It was always like that with the Jews. Tears and people holding each other. Why feel sorry for them?

Gus sat up straight at the wheel, his face grim. He thought of the armistice and imagined that he was in Paris. His truck was a massive tank rumbling with the others through the wide boulevards. The French, on the sidewalks, were overpowered with fear.

He drove tensely, his eyes unsmiling. He knew that if he relaxed the picture would fade.

1940

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2003

    A master's work

    It takes only a few unforgettable stories to make a great storywriter. And there among these stories those few , including 'The Magic Barrel'and 'The Jewbird' Malamud's low-key precision, his eye and ear pitched at a delicate level ,his unique Yiddish English dialect,his capacity for creating memorable character his preoccupation with and sympathy for suffering Jews and suffering humanity all combine to make him one of the finest short story writers America has ever known. A highly recommended work too for anyone who wishes to know the tribulations and sufferings of the sensitive soul, the artist in the modern world.

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