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TALKING HORSE by Bernard Malamud


Bernard Malamud on Life and Work

by Bernard Malamud

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1996
ISBN: 0-231-10184-8
Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Sensible reflections on the writer's life from a modest master of postwar fiction. While widely respected and, thanks to the popular success of The Natural (1952), more widely read than many of his contemporaries, the novelist and short-story writer Bernard Malamud (1914-86) has remained a somewhat enigmatic figure. As editors Cheuse (The Light Possessed, 1990. etc.) and Delbanco (In the Name of Mercy, 1995, etc.) explain in their loving commentaries, Malamud was a private man, not known for blowing his own horn. He did, however, produce a significant body of reflections on literature, the craft of writing, and his own experiences, now gathered in this agreeable volume. Malamud's best pieces explore the singularities of his formation. In a lecture at Bennington College in 1984, Malamud recollects his long apprenticeship as a high school teacher and as a professor at Oregon State University. In a Paris Review interview he covers this territory in more discursive fashion, interspersing some subtle yet striking remarks about his works. Having called his novel Pictures of Fidelman "a book about finding a vocation," Malamud wryly asks the reader to "forgive the soft impeachment." But essay-length enjoinders to young writers to "take chances" become extended cliches. Still, cliches can have their virtues, and Malamud's have the not inconsiderable virtue of integrity. This quality shines through when Malamud considers his own life experience, for instance, from the perspective of his relation to his Jewish identity. It shines as well in a pair of addresses, given when Malamud served as president of the PEN American Center, which forcefully make the case for the importance of writing as a humanistic, civilizing endeavor. In such pieces, the quiet moral courage at the heart of Malamud's work, his stubborn devotion to the integrity of an artist's unique, individual vision, are thrown into bold relief, reminding us of how much we miss that humane, modest, intelligent voice.