New Life is Bernard Malamud’s college novel, based on his experience teaching in a land grant college in Oregon in the 1950s. Coming after his success with The Assistant, and before his even greater success with The Fixer, this novel can be a bit of a letdown. The college professor, the departmental intrigue, the faculty wife having an affair with the outsider to the department, are all elements of the “collage novel” we have seen before. In this sense, there is nothing new here.
But Malamud is careful writer, laying each brick of the story carefully on the other, giving this all too conventional tale his own unique solidity. He is fearless in what he puts his characters through, and his fairness to show how each on his responsible for his or her misery is unwavering.
So, though New Life does not quite stand up to his great novels or short story collections, it is worth reading. Malamud steers clear of overtly Jewish themes, by and large, and charts through some new territory.