Like an end is more than I can stand? Each book I write nudges me that much closer to death?" Perhaps that is why Lesser, who has been working on his third book for ten years, cannot complete it although by the close of Malamud's novel, which begins quietly enough and which deals with two of his unheroic hero-victims, one black, one white, he has perhaps brought you closer to more than you can stand. Lesser lives alone, in a fetid abandoned slum tenement, shackled to the books he must write when Willie Spearmint moves in. He's also a writer, a self-styled Soul Writer, and not a very good one, but equally shackled to the printed word which may release the experience he's lived: "All day I walk on myself and the shit sticks to my shoes." In time they communicate even if they can never really cross over into each other's world: "Be white. Be Jewish?" "Be close is better" -- this is an impossible objective particularly when Lesser appropriates Willie's (white) girl, and Willie disappears, destroying his own work, destroying Lesser's, and. . . . In this book, Malamud relies more on fierce' extremes than he has ever done before, but then he always gentles his material with humor, with that redemptive conscience, and above all with a compassion which extends all of his works beyond the mapped margins of existence, however destitute.