Talking Horse: Bernard Malamud on Life and Work

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Overview

Publishers Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Novelists Cheuse (The Light Possessed) and Delbanco (In the Name of Mercy) have assembled an impressive gathering of the late Malamud's essays, interviews, lectures and notes, a good number of which have never before been published. The collection reveals the author of The Natural and many other books as a dedicated craftsman and teacher, firmly connected to a larger Jewish literary tradition and animated by a deep-seated humanism and a sly wit. In addition to admirers of Malamud's fiction, this book should also be of considerable interest to aspiring writers, as Malamud is open and revealing about his own creative process, and consistently engaging in his often politicized and outspoken views on the artist's role in society. The book's biggest weakness lies in the fact that it is clearly a gathering of disparate occasional pieces, with considerable repetition. Malamud often uses the same examples to make the same point, sometimes almost quoting himself word for word. And while his comments on his own work and on the creative process are enduring, some of his comments on the cultural moment already feel dated. While readers may find themselves wishing the author himself had been given the opportunity to form these pieces into a larger whole, the collection is nevertheless filled with Malamud's distinctive and compassionate wisdom. (May)
Library Journal
This collection of interviews, speeches, lectures, notes, and essays, many of them never before published, will inspire and challenge all readers, especially those interested in the craft of writing. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Awards, novelist Malamud (1914-86) is best known for The Natural (1952), The Assistant (1957), and The Fixer (1966), as well as for a number of short stories. During his lifetime he revealed little of his writing process, making this collection particularly valuable. Editors Cheuse, a commentator for National Public Radio, and Delbanco, a novelist whose works include In the Name of Mercy (LJ 8/95), were colleagues and friends of Malamud at Bennington College. Their introduction and notes at the beginning of each section add biographical facts and personal anecdotes. Of particular note is Malamud's revelation of his source material and ruminations when beginning a work, permitting us to glimpse a novel or short story's birth. In the discussion of "The Writer and His Craft," he offers valuable, detailed advice for the beginning writer, stressing that hard work must accompany natural talent. Recommended especially for students of writing.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Booknews
The author of such acclaimed novels as The Fixer and The Natural was intensely private about the way he worked. This collection includes speeches, interviews, lesson plans, essays, and a series of previously unpublished notes on the nature of fiction, all of which offer an intimate look at the writing life. Each section includes headnotes by the editors. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Sensible reflections on the writer's life from a modest master of postwar fiction.

While widely respected and, thanks to the popular success of The Natural (1952), more widely read than many of his contemporaries, the novelist and short-story writer Bernard Malamud (191486) has remained a somewhat enigmatic figure. As editors Cheuse (The Light Possessed, 1990. etc.) and Delbanco (In the Name of Mercy, 1995, etc.) explain in their loving commentaries, Malamud was a private man, not known for blowing his own horn. He did, however, produce a significant body of reflections on literature, the craft of writing, and his own experiences, now gathered in this agreeable volume. Malamud's best pieces explore the singularities of his formation. In a lecture at Bennington College in 1984, Malamud recollects his long apprenticeship as a high school teacher and as a professor at Oregon State University. In a Paris Review interview he covers this territory in more discursive fashion, interspersing some subtle yet striking remarks about his works. Having called his novel Pictures of Fidelman "a book about finding a vocation," Malamud wryly asks the reader to "forgive the soft impeachment." But essay-length enjoinders to young writers to "take chances" become extended clichés. Still, clichés can have their virtues, and Malamud's have the not inconsiderable virtue of integrity. This quality shines through when Malamud considers his own life experience, for instance, from the perspective of his relation to his Jewish identity. It shines as well in a pair of addresses, given when Malamud served as president of the PEN American Center, which forcefully make the case for the importance of writing as a humanistic, civilizing endeavor.

In such pieces, the quiet moral courage at the heart of Malamud's work, his stubborn devotion to the integrity of an artist's unique, individual vision, are thrown into bold relief, reminding us of how much we miss that humane, modest, intelligent voice.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231101844
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 6/6/1996
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 7.28 (w) x 7.32 (h) x 0.31 (d)

Meet the Author

ALAN CHEUSE is the book commentator for National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

NICHOLAS DELBANCO directs the Hopwood Awards program and the MFA in writing program at the University of Michigan.

Columbia University Press

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

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Pt. 1 The Man and His Work 1
1 Introduction to The Stories of Bernard Malamud, 1983 5
2 The Writer at Work 10
3 Long Work, Short Life 25
Pt. 2 The Man on His Work 37
4 The Natural: Raison d'Etre and Meaning 41
5 Why Fantasy? 47
6 The Magic Barrel 62
7 A Note to My Norwegian Readers on The Assistant 86
8 Source of The Fixer 88
Pt. 3 The Writer and His Craft 91
9 Beginning the Novel 95
10 Finding One's Voice 107
11 On Subject Matter 111
12 The Short Story 117
13 Questions and Answers in Knoxville, Tennessee 119
14 Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism 130
15 Jewishness in American Fiction 136
16 Notes on The People 147
Pt. 4 The Writer in the Modern World 159
17 A World Association of Writers 164
18 Freedom of Expression 166
19 Bennington College Commencement Address 172
20 Bennington Writing Workshops 179
21 Jewish Heritage Award Presentation Address 181
22 Imaginative Writing and the Jewish Experience 184
23 The Contemporary Novel 191
24 The Writer in the Modern World 200
25 An Idea That Animates My Writing 215
26 A Mighty Theme 217
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