Bread Upon the Waters: A Novel

Bread Upon the Waters: A Novel

by Irwin Shaw

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480412392
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 04/16/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 479
Sales rank: 259,225
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Irwin Shaw (1913–1984) was an acclaimed, award-winning author who grew up in New York City and graduated from Brooklyn College in 1934. His first play, Bury the Dead (1936), has become an anti-war classic. He went on to write several more plays, more than a dozen screenplays, two works of nonfiction, dozens of short stories (for which he won two O. Henry awards), and twelve novels, including The Young Lions (1948) and Rich Man, Poor Man (1970). William Goldman, author of Temple of Gold and Marathon Man, says of Shaw: “He is one of the great storytellers and a pleasure to read.” For more about Shaw’s life and work, visit     

Read an Excerpt

Bread Upon the Waters

By Irwin Shaw


Copyright © 1981 Irwin Shaw
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-1239-2


He was in a strange bed. There was murmuring around him. An impression of white. Machinery. The sound of the distant breaking of the sea against the shore. Or perhaps the liquid surf of his blood, pulsing against interior walls. He was floating—somewhere. It was difficult for him to open his eyes, the lids were heavy. There was a man walking in spring sunshine. He had the impression he had met the man before. Finally, he realized, it was himself.

Attired in mismatched flapping clothes, Allen Strand strode into the fragrant green hush of Central Park, the rumble of Fifth Avenue diminishing behind him. He walked slowly, his weekend pace. On work days he loped, his tall, lean figure crowned by a long narrow head, his nose, a sharp, inherited bowsprit, leaning into a private oceanic wind. His wing of straight, iron-gray hair flashed in the up and down sea motion of his stride. His daughter Eleanor, after meeting him once by accident on the street, had said she almost expected to see a bow wave curling around his prow as he sailed through the currents of city traffic.

The thought that he was going to see Eleanor that evening pleased him. She had a sharp eye and sharp tongue, and her observations were not always benign, but the glint of weapons she brought to the family dinner table made him look forward, as he strolled along the bench-bordered path, to what otherwise might have been a dutiful weekly ritual.

It had been gray and windy that morning, and he had thought it would be a good afternoon to get on a bus and go down to the Museum of Modern Art, of which he was a member—one of his few extravagances—and see a movie before dinner. That afternoon they were showing Fort Apache. It was a delicious retelling of a naive and heroic American myth, an antidote to doubt. He had seen it several times before, but he was attached to it, like a child who insists upon hearing the same story read to him each night before sleep. But the wind had died down by noon and the sky had cleared and he had decided to forgo the film for one of his favorite walks, several miles west toward home from the high school in which he taught.

This Friday it was warm and summery, the gift of May, the grass redolent of simpler country, the leaves of the trees a pale lime in the late afternoon sunshine. He dawdled, stopped to chuckle at a poodle running bravely after a pigeon, watched boys play an inning of softball, admired a handsome young man and his pretty girl, smiling dreamily, conspiratorially, their faces glowing with the promise of the weekend's sensuality as they approached along the path, oblivious of him.

The flesh of May, he thought. Praise God for spring and Friday. He was an indifferent Christian but the afternoon called for gratitude and belief.

He was unencumbered. He had corrected the week's test papers, the aftermath of the Civil War, and left Appomattox and the Reconstruction in his desk. For two days the children he had taught and graded were not his responsibility; at the moment they were hooting at games in playgrounds or experimenting with sex on tenement rooftops or hidden in hallways smoking marijuana or filling syringes with heroin bought, it was said, from the fat man in a baseball cap who stationed himself regularly at a street corner near the school. His hands free, Strand bent and picked up a small round stone and carried it with him for a while, linked to glaciers, enjoying the feel of the smooth ungiving curved surface, warmed by the day's sun.

Dinner would be late tonight, with the whole family assembled, and he went out of his way a bit to pass by the park tennis courts, where he knew his younger daughter, Caroline, would be playing. She was a dedicated athlete. No marijuana or heroin for her, he thought complacently, generously pitying less fortunate parents. The holiday weather invited generosity and complacency.

Even at a distance from the court he recognized Caroline from the way she moved. She had a bouncy determined style of running for the ball and an almost boyish mannerism of running her fingers through her short blond hair between points.

The young man she was playing with seemed frail in comparison to Caroline, who, although slender, was tall for her age, full-bosomed and broad-shouldered, with long, well-shaped legs, legs that were admirably public under the brief tennis shorts and which Strand could see were being appreciated by the male passersby.

No marijuana or heroin, Strand thought, but what about sex? These days, a girl seventeen years old ... He shook his head. What had he been doing when he was seventeen—earlier even—and how old had the girls been with whom he had done it? Better not to remember. Anyway, sex was Caroline's mother's department and he was sure it had been satisfactorily taken care of, if something like that ever could be satisfactorily taken care of. He, himself, had done the necessary with his son and he had detected no later signs of revulsion or fear or undue fascination with the subject in the boy.

Although the young man on the other side of the court seemed stringy and undernourished to Strand, he hit the ball hard and the exchanges were sharp and equal. Strand waited for Caroline to hit a hard overhead smash and then called out "Bravo." She turned and waved her racquet at him and came over to the fence behind which he was standing and blew him a kiss. Her face was red and her hair was wet with perspiration, but Strand thought she looked delightful, even though the exercise had drawn the lines of her face tight, which made her nose, unfortunately shaped like a smaller model of his own, stand out more than it did when her plumpish face was at rest.

"Hi, Daddy," she said. "He's killing me—Stevie. Hey, Stevie," she called, "come and say hello to my father."

"I don't want to interrupt your game," Strand said.

"It gives me a chance to breathe," Caroline said. "I can use it."

Stevie came along the fence, brushing at the hair at the back of his head.

"I'm glad to meet you, sir," Stevie said politely. "Caroline tells me you were her first tennis teacher."

"She started to beat me when she was nine. Now I just watch," Strand said.

"She beats me, too," Stevie said, with a sad little smile.

"Only on days when you're in the depths of depression," Caroline said.

"I wish you wouldn't say things like that, Caroline," Stevie said crossly. "I sometimes find it difficult to concentrate, that's all. That isn't depression."

"Come on, now," Caroline said, with a comradely push of her hand against the boy's shoulder, "I wasn't suggesting anything extreme—like you going home and crying yourself to sleep when you lose a set or anything like that. I was joking."

"I just don't want people to get the wrong idea," the boy repeated stubbornly.

"Don't be so sensitive. Or be sensitive on your own time," Caroline said. "He's not usually like this, Daddy. He doesn't like people watching him play."

"I can understand that," Strand said diplomatically. "I'd still be playing tennis if I could figure out a way to do it in utter darkness. I'll be getting along, anyway."

"Very glad to have met you, sir," the boy said and went back to the other side of the net, pushing at the hair at the back of his neck.

"Forgive him, Daddy," Caroline said. "He had a ghastly childhood."

"It doesn't seem to have affected his tennis game," Strand said. "How has your ghastly childhood affected yours?"

"Oh, Daddy"—Caroline waved her racquet at him—"don't tease."

"See you at home. Don't be too late." He watched two more points, marveling at how swift the two young people were as their metal racquets made gleaming slashes in the air. Even when he had been their age he had not been quick. Fast reader, he thought as he started toward home again, and slow, deliberate runner. A choice of talents. No matter. He had bred a surrogate for speed.

The superintendent of the building, Alexander, was leaning against the wall to one side of the glass front door, smoking a cigar, scowling. He was a light tan man of indeterminate age with a close-cropped cap of gray hair and he was not one to smile easily. Given the neighborhood, which was on the thin edge of respectability with Columbus Avenue at the far end of the street and the howl of police sirens a frequent melody, one could understand why he was not often caught smiling.

"Evening, Alexander," Strand said.

"Evening, Mr. Strand." Alexander did not take the cigar out of his mouth. He was one of the last remaining men in New York who still wore a World War II combat jacket, as though for him the war had just entered into a different phase.

"Fine day, wasn't it?" Strand liked the man and appreciated the way he worried the old 1910 apartment building into passable condition.

"Okay," Alexander said, grudgingly. "We had it coming after the bitch of a winter. It won't last long, though. They say it's rain tomorrow." Optimism, like geniality, was not Alexander's strong point. "Your missus is home," he volunteered. "And your boy." He made a point of knowing who came in and out of his building. He liked orderly and recorded exits and entrances. It reduced unpleasant surprises.

"Thanks," Strand said. He had given Alexander twenty-five dollars and a bottle of Wild Turkey at Easter. His wife had protested at the magnitude of Strand's largesse, but Strand had told her, "We owe it to him. He is the sentinel who protects us from chaos." Alexander had thanked Strand briefly—but his attitude had not changed noticeably.

When Strand opened the door to his apartment, he heard two kinds of music—the piano in the living room and the plaintive faint twanging of an electric guitar. There was also a delicious smell of cooking coming from the kitchen. He smiled at the combination of stimuli with which he had been greeted. The sound of the piano was from a lesson his wife, Leslie, was giving. She had gone to Juilliard with the intention of becoming a concert pianist, but while she played well she did not play well enough for that. Now the piano lessons and the music appreciation courses she taught three days a week at the private preparatory school not far from where they lived helped out considerably with the family budget as well as supplying an education tuition free to Caroline. Without Leslie's help, in the face of ever-rising rents, they could never have kept the old rambling apartment, with its spacious, other-age rooms and high ceilings.

The tentative cadence of the guitar, considerately muffled by closed doors, was that of his son, Jimmy, who had inherited his mother's talent if not her taste in the composers he preferred.

Strand did not disturb either of the artists at their labors, but went into the dining room, where he couldn't hear the guitar, but could hear first the student, then Leslie, easily distinguishable from each other, going over a passage he recognized as from a Chopin étude. Because of it he knew who the student was: a television scriptwriter with a passion for Chopin. He had been told by his analyst that playing the piano would lessen tension. His tension might be lessened. Strand thought as he listened, but Chopin would never be in his debt.

Leslie had a mixed bag of students—among them a policeman with a good ear and harsh fingers who practiced all his off-time; a thirteen year old whose parents thought she was a genius, an opinion not shared by Leslie; a lawyer who said he would gladly play the piano in a brothel rather than appear in court; and several music teachers who wanted help in preparing their courses. All of whom gave Leslie a lively and interesting profession in her own home.

Strand loved music and when he could afford it took Leslie to the opera, and although from time to time he winced at some of the sounds that emanated from the living room and his son's bedroom, he liked the idea of the apartment being almost continually filled with melody. When he worked at home there was a desk in the big master bedroom where he could read or write in silence.

Strand hummed softly with the passage his wife was playing for the benefit of the neurotic TV writer. Seated at the round, battered oak table in the dining room, whose walls were decorated with the landscapes his wife painted in her spare time, he glanced at the copy of The New York Times lying on the table. Doom, he thought as he reached for an apple from the bowl of fruit that was in the middle of the table. As he ate he scanned the headlines of the paper that Leslie always left for him because he never had time to finish it in the morning. He was half through with the apple when the sound of the piano stopped and the sliding doors between the dining and living rooms were thrown open. Strand stood up as Leslie entered, followed by the television writer. "Oh, you're home," Leslie said, kissing him on the cheek. "I didn't hear you come in."

"I was enjoying the concert," Strand said. His wife smelled fresh and appetizing. Her long blond hair, tied up on top of her head now, was in disarray because of her habit of nodding vigorously when she played. What a nice woman to come home to, he thought. She had been a student of his in her senior year, and the first day he had seen her sitting demurely in the front row of his classroom he had decided that she was the girl he was going to marry. Schools in New York were different then. Girls wore dresses and combed their hair and did not think it outlandish to look demure. He had waited until she was graduated, had taken careful note of her address, had called on her and to the dismay of her parents, who considered his choice of teaching in a public school a mark of predestined lifelong failure, he had married her after her first year at Juilliard. The parents had changed their minds a little by the time Eleanor was born, but not much. Anyway, they now lived in Palm Springs, and he did not read the letters they wrote to Leslie.

"I hope the noise didn't bother you," the television writer said.

"Not at all," Strand said. "You're coming along nicely, I must say, Mr. Crowell."

"You must have been listening while your wife was at the piano," Crowell said gloomily. His tension did not seem to have lessened noticeably since a week ago Friday.

Strand laughed. "I can tell the difference, Mr. Crowell."

"I bet you can," Crowell said.

"Mr. Crowell and I are going to have a cup of tea, Allen," Leslie said. "Will you join us?"

"Love to."

"I'll just be a minute," Leslie said. "The kettle's on." As she went into the kitchen Strand admired her slender figure, the curve of her neck, the blue skirt and white, schoolgirlish blouse she wore, her firm legs, her fair, soft resemblance to his eldest daughter.

"Marvelous woman, that," Crowell said. "The patience of an angel."

"Are you married, Mr. Crowell?"

"Twice," Crowell said darkly. "And I'm working on a third. I'm up to my ears in alimony." He had a pudgy, tormented face, like a blighted peeled potato. Leslie had told Strand that the man wrote gags for situation comedies. From Crowell's face, it seemed a harrowing profession. He paid twenty dollars a half hour for his lessons, twice a week, so the pain must have been well rewarded, especially since he went to an analyst five times a week. Modern American economy, Strand thought. One-liners, the couch, and alimony.

"Some day," Crowell was saying, "we must have a drink together and you can tell me how a man can stay married in this day and age."

"I haven't the faintest idea," Strand said lightly. "Luck. Sloth. A conservative distaste for change."

"Yeah," Crowell said disbelievingly, pulling at the fingers of his pudgy hands. He glanced at the newspaper spread out on the table. "You can still stand to read the newspapers?" he said.

"A vice," Strand said.

"They drive me up the wall."

"Sit down, sit down," Leslie said, coming in from the kitchen carrying the tea things and a plate of cookies on a tray. She poured, her hand firm, a slight housewifely smile on her face, and passed the cookies. Crowell shook his head sadly. "On a diet," he said. "Cholesterol, pressure. The lot."

Strand helped himself to a handful. He didn't drink much and never had smoked but he had a sweet tooth. He hadn't gained a pound since he was twenty and he noticed Crowell staring glumly at the small mound of biscuits on his saucer. Crowell would have liked milk with his tea but when he asked if it was skim milk and was told by Leslie that it wasn't, drank his tea as it was, without sugar.

Leslie, acting like a hostess, asked Crowell if he wouldn't like to abandon Chopin for a while and try a little Mozart, but Crowell said he'd rather not, Mozart was too damn sure of himself for his taste.


Excerpted from Bread Upon the Waters by Irwin Shaw. Copyright © 1981 Irwin Shaw. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Bread upon the Waters 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This 400 page book was one of the last written by Berlin. It was published shortly before his death in 1982. Berlin was born in 1913 and was a prolific author. He wrote many famous best sellers. A lot of them made into movies. This book, BREAD UPON THE WATERS, is not aptly named. The title has no connection to the story. This book seemed very dated and I did not like it very much. It is about the destrution of a hard working and loving man's family. He is too naive and innocent to realize what is happening until it is too late. After the rich man has destroyed the lives of those he professes to care about and never meant to hurt, commits suicide, rather than face the music. The teacher must pick up the pieces of his ruined life and carry on alone. The over view sums this book up nicely. I enjoyed RICH MAN! POOR MAN, by Berlin and decided to give this effort a try. It does not live up to the standards of his other books. Perhaps because of his age and health at the time he wrote it. There is drug use, lots of sex, without details, plenty of pathos, some violence, a gay man which is very unusual for this era, manlipuations of all kinds, rebellion, extra marital affairs, violence and racial discrimination. There is not any religion. For adults. This is not chick lit, nor is written for men only. I found it very sad, overy long and rather boring. AD
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The protagonist is a spineless vanilla teacher. He remains in the dark about life in general. His lack of ambition is amazing. Try as i may i just could not muster even an iota of sympathy. The book is merely OK. It drags in many places
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a pleasure to read. Mr. Shaw developed the various personalities in the book so that the reader could identify with whichever one fit themselves. He traced a family's ups and downs and the unexpectedness of life which often intervened and changed the course of what was happening. A great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Basis staple you need and do not expect it to be returned , it will be returned to you three times as much it is not meant to be taken literal refers to a charitable sudden impulse that results in a mircle of generousity instead of washed up soggey rolls uneatable which their bread turned out to be less the fault of giver than their own flaws e g ironic twist