Friday, May 02, 2008

The Book You Have to Read: The Assistant -- Bernard Malamud

It's Friday again, time for Patti Abbot's "The Book You Have to Read" meme.

I have no idea where Bernard Malamud stands in the pantheon of American literature these days. I just know that he wrote two novels that affected me powerfully. One is
The Natural, which is nothing much like the movie version, and the other is The Assistant, which we might even be able to call a crime novel, since it begins with a holdup.

I grew up in a little East Texas town with a very small Jewish population. I remember the Altman family because they lived next door to my cousin. Ronnie played touch football with us and collected baseball cards along with us. I also remember Joe Jacobs, whose father owned a clothing store. Joe was the drummer in the high school band and a great one. He also carried a switchblade so long that even when closed it protruded out of the top of his jeans pocket. The other Jews I knew were all in books, and it was in The Assistant that I met Morris Bober. I also met Frank Alpin, who was not a Jew but who learns a lot about being Jewish after he holds up Morris and later becomes his assistant.

Desperation, sorrow, fear, happiness, this book has them all, and it's told in a clear, readable style, as are all the stories and novels I've read by Malamud. If you've never read Malamud, give him a try. This book, or the collection of stories titled The Magic Barrel, would be a great place sto start.

Click here
for links to more forgotten books.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Bernard Malamud is pretty much forgotten at the College level. The catch-word now is "multiculturalism." And there's an aversion to clear prose. The more obscure, the better it seems. This state of affairs in the English Departments across this great nation might explain the decline in the number of students who elect to become English majors.

George Kelley

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

I first read THE ASSISTANT in a 20th Century American Lit class in college. It was one of my favorites of that semester's reading list.