The Assistant

Malamud, Bernard. The Assistant. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1985.

Reason read: Malamud died in the month of March. Sad book for a sad occasion.

Confession: I have a hard time with Malamud. He writes with a melancholy I can’t put my finger on. The Assistant is no different with its depressing tone. From page one it is laced with utter sadness. This quote from the introduction seems to sum up Malamud’s writing perfectly, “Malamud was a master of the short story, and it sometimes seems that his characters are too poor to live in longer fiction” (p viii).

Morris Bober is a Jewish grocer in poverty stricken, post-WWII Brooklyn. He can barely make ends meet but does the best he can for his wife and twenty-three year old daughter. When his meager store is robbed the dye is cast.It only gets more complicated after Frank Alpine mysteriously comes into his life to help with the store, court his daughter and change his life. One of the most beautiful elements to Malamud’s writing is that for all his sadness, there is a thin thread of hope that winds its way through the story. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the story ends with hope.

The Assistant is rich with the culture of life as an immigrant. It’s also rich with the climate of the era. Can you picture a time when peopleĀ  said things like, “Say, baby, let’s drop this deep philosophy and go trap a hamburger” (p 44)?

Quotes I fell in love with: “He crawled towards sleep” (p 10), “Wisdom flew over his hard head” (p 18), “How complicated could impossible get?” (p 89), “Where there was no wit money couldn’t buy it” (p 153) and “What you did was how bad you smelled” (p 174). They are so simple yet powerful.

Book trivia: Jonathan Rosen’s introduction is unfair when he says “…finish the novel before you finish this sentence…” (p ix).

Author fact: Malamud taught at Bennington College in Vermont. Cool.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called, of course, “The Jewish-American Experience” (p 134).

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