Malamud Stories (Almost) Complete
[original title: New Collection of Bernard Malamud: The (Almost) Complete Stories]
reviewed by Leonard Lehrman
AUFBAU 63:20 Sept. 26, 1997 p15
Sept. 21, 1997 550 words
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
Every five years or so, since 1958, a new collection of short stories by Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) would go to press, until 1989, when his nearly-finished novel The People appeared posthumously, together with fourteen "uncollected" stories which had hitherto appeared only in magazines, or not at all, from 1940 to 1984.
So it was high time that his publisher, Robert Giroux (of Farrar, Straus and Giroux), would come out this year with "The Complete Stories." These include Malamud's only play, Suppose A Wedding, referred to here as a story "in dramatic form," which became an opera that has been reviewed in this paper, and is mentioned in Giroux's introduction.
He might also have mentioned the six other opera libretti based on Malamud short stories: Idiots First (Blitzstein-Lehrman), The Magic Barrel (Blitzstein, incomplete), Karla (Lehrman, based on "Notes from a Lady at a Dinner Party,"), The Lady of the Lake (Mabley-Siegmeister), Angel Levine (Mabley-Siegmeister, as well as a musical by Phyllis Robinson), and The Jewbird (in Hebrew, by Jacobo Kaufmann and Raymond Goldstein).
And he might have included the unpublished parable, "A Fool Grows Without Rain," which Malamud gave Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964) to consider making into an opera, and then apparently forgot about. When I discovered it in the Blitzstein Archive in Madison, Wisconsin in 1975, Malamud asked me to copy it and send it to him, which I did. It is not a sketch for any story in this collection, though it does have a character named Fishbein, which name also appears in "Idiots First," among other places. And it is, like so many of the beautiful vignettes Malamud was justly famous for, very sad.
Aufbau readers are likely to feel closest to "The German Refugee," with its inevitable though still shocking ending. Malamud is a master of the mysteries and misreadings of the human heart.
His women characters are usually seen through the eyes of a mystified man. The 1943 "Steady Customer," here in its first book publication, is unusual for its vision of a near-silent man through the eyes of uncomprehending women.
"An Apology," mistakenly listed as having appeared in Commentary in 1957 (it was actually 1951), was another story Blitzstein considered making into an opera. The story appears here in book form for the first time, as does Malamud's last story, "Alma Revealed," on the thrice (and a half) widowed Alma Maria Mahler Gropius (Kokoschka) Werfel. [Editor please note: in this story, Hannover, Germany should be spelled with two n's!] In typically evocative, compound style, Gropius "gazed at Anna with architectural eyes and she was aware she had form." But her two Jewish husbands "needed a Christian quality."
Malamud himself married a Catholic, never asking her to convert, and his Old Testament parables often mix with Christian imagery, most powerfully in "Idiots First," where, to avoid having to sacrifice a retarded Isaac, his father takes on the role of Everyman, fighting with the Jewish Angel of Death. Though unmentioned in the Bibliography, that short story also appeared in The Bennington College Bulletin. Robert Giroux has promised to add this information to the paperback edition in 18 months, or some later edition. Malamud's stories will be with us for a long time to come. Maybe one day we'll see a Malamud opera festival?
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