By Bernard Malamud
Original and Current Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Harold Augenbraum writes:
I get the feeling that Bernard Malamud liked to shake his finger at the reader—maybe. It could be me, but after reading The Fixer, about a man thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the angry, gentile peasants who will do anything at all to foil the Jew in their midst, the impotence of the Jews, and the helping hands stretched out by both Jews and non-Jews, I felt kind of...well...dirty. Like I had done all this stuff against Yakov Bok, like I was being admonished about Jewish self-hatred, like I was about to get my comeuppance, like I was an active part of a politically and socially corrupt world, and that the impossibility of earthly redemption in a fallen world was my fault.
I would guess that Malamud is known for an attitude of existential ascendancy, finding a way to transcend the muck and mire (sometimes real, sometimes metaphoric) by whatever means possible, as in his A New Life and Dubin’s Lives. His vision is dark (note that Barry Levinson’s film changed the ending of Malamud’s The Natural to allow the main character to overcome his past, but Malamud’s Roy Hobbs succumbs to his own failings, or he fails at it—it’s open to interpretation).
In The Fixer, Malamud’s is a dark, ugly vision of degradation and horror and impotence, in which the protagonist plays fast and loose with his own ethics and beliefs and ends up paying a price as part of his trial by fire. People around him try to help, but they are either rejected or crushed. And I get the feeling that this hard-headed protagonist is not there to make me feel better about myself, or worse, but to make me squeamish. Malamud writes in Yakov’s voice: “If there was a God, after reading Spinoza he had closed up his shop and become an idea” and “...there was the activist Jan De Witt, Spinoza’s friend and benefactor, a good and great man who was torn to pieces by a Dutch mob when they got suspicious of him although he was innocent. Who needs such a fate?” And so Yakov chooses Spinoza as his intellectual guide, the same Spinoza who was cast out of the Jewish community in Amsterdam for apostasy. I’m a bit at sea in the face of The Fixer, and each time I re-read this post I add to it, which means I’m trying to figure out my own thoughts and feelings through these pixels. So here’s my recommendation: I don’t recommend you read this book if you don’t want to feel uncomfortable, if you don’t want to feel like an outcast yourself. On the other hand, for those of you who enjoy complex characters for whom the intellectual, the spiritual, and the political intertwine, have at it. But know that you are risking the competition of feeling.
Harold Augenbraum is Executive Director of the National Book Foundation, an editor and translator.
Fiction Finalists that Year:
- Louis Auchincloss for The Embezzler
- Edwin O'Connor for All in the Family
- Walker Percy for The Last Gentleman
- Harry Petrakis for A Dream of Kings
- Wilfrid Sheed for Office Politics
Fiction Judges that Year: John K. Hutchens, Mark Schorer, Anthony West
The Year in Literature:
- The Fixer by the Bernard Malamud also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
- Miguel Angel Asturias won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
- This was Bernard Malamud’s second National Book Award in eight years.
- In 1968 The Fixer was made into a film, which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Alan Bates).
- Bernard Malamud Wikipedia entry
- Bernard Malamud Papers
Oregon State University Library - Special Collection
- Bernard Malamud Interview in Paris Review
The Art of Fiction No. 52
Interviewed by Daniel Stern
Issue 61, Spring 1975
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