Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rescuing Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud, A Writer’s Life, is the first full scale biography of Malamud, a figure who appears to be read less and less these days.

During his career, Malamud won the National Book Award twice, and a Pulitzer once, and numerous other accolades.  But he was always seen as the somewhat droopy, stodgy member of the triumvirate of post-War Jewish writers (the others Bellow and Roth).  His life was less flamboyant; his habits were more regular, and his output, less dazzling. Certainly, he was not considered worthy of a biography.

Philip Davis sets out to remedy his, and perhaps in the process, give Malamud a bit of jump start.  The book details his life, with a heavy emphasis on the themes of his books. Although this is the biography of a writer, and we would expect this, Davis spends a great deal of time on the content of Malamud’s work, to the exclusion, at times, of the actual man writing.  

But beyond that, we get a complex, if not sad portrait of Bernard Malamud.  He gave his life to writing.  Writing draft after draft of his novels and stories.  Working everyday at his constant rewrites.  Yet he never appeared to enjoy his success.  Early childhood deprivations left him sad and lonely, unable to appreciate his accomplishments.   

In this biography we are left with the portrait of a man very much at odds with his life, his instincts, and even his writing.

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