Novels and Stories of the 1940s and 1950s by Bernard Malamud; Library of America, 720 pages and Novels and Stories of the 1960s by Malamud, Library of America, 928 pages, both edited by Philip Davis and $35.
Here, it seems to me, are two volumes which will stand, should it ever be necessary, as perfect examples of why the Library of America exists. We live in an era in which the still-living Philip Roth and the posthumously ever-tendentious Norman Mailer (as well as Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow) have a tendency to suck all of the oxygen out of the room when the subject turns to the great Jewish-American writers of the mid-20th century.
But here, irreplaceably, are two volumes costing $35 each that we’d never have seen before if it weren’t for the Library of America – Bernard Malamud’s novels and stories of the ’40s and ’50s including “The Natural,” “The Assistant” and such classic stories as “The Magic Barrel” and “The Angel Levine” along with six stories posthumously published from the time and Malamud’s novels and stories of the ’60s including “A New Life,” “The Fixer,” and the stories from “Pictures of Fidelman” and “Idiots First” for which he is probably best known.
In other words, what’s here in these two volumes is the complete work not only needing preservation but rediscovery. And how great this work remains, even in an era where it has been allowed to slip into thoroughly incomprehensible eclipse. Roth is happy to tell us now that to him, Malamud’s and Bellow’s work once meant the world but that hasn’t, until now, been enough to put this extraordinary work back up where it belongs. Even the film of “The Natural” (which, despite the radically altered ending, Malamud rather liked) hasn’t done as much to preserve Malamud’s original novel as it should.
What was once precious when the stories were all published together in the “Collected Stories” has now been joined to the novels that are their crucial creative brethren. The melodies of the prose remain unique and Malamud’s imagination cries out now for major, wholesale rediscovery.
– Jeff Simon