Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud

Title: The Magic Barrel
Author: Bernard Malamud
Enjoyment Rating: Some stories 9/10, others 5/10, overall 7/10
Source: Ordered used from Amazon
Referral: Required reading for Creative Writing workshop
Books I've read this year: 119

I'm a little bit embarrassed that I've come this far in life without reading Malamud (I've been too busy reading Maisie Dobbs, I guess). I know he's considered important and he won all kinds of big awards in his day, so I should have had the internal motivation to tackle one of his novels earlier, but I didn't. Now I've been compelled by my professor to read Malamud, and despite my prejudice against the short story, I have to say that I'm finding this book delightful. Malamud has kind of a stock thing in these stories-- they're all about some guy (usually either Jewish or Italian), living in New York (I imagine them in the Brooklyn of the 1950s and 1960s), and they're all impotent in some way. They have dreams that they can't seem to rise above. Sometimes bad luck holds them down, but more often they just can't get their stuff together. And now that I've read about a dozen of these guys, I have a soft spot in my heart growing for them. Malamud's writing is also really engaging-- mostly simple, straightforward sentences, a great ear for voices, and occasionally these zingers of an image that really stand out. While Malamud does some zany things (the black Jewish angel, for instance), I love that his stories seem to focus on conflict and character rather than impressing an audience with his bag of tricks. 

1 comment:

Amir said...

I couldn't agree more. Well written and what you said is just right. In particular, what you said about his focus on his characters hit the spot.