The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud is "an essential American book", Richard Stern declared in the Chicago Tribune when the collection was published in hardcover. His praise was echoed by other reviewers and by audiences, who embraced the book as they might a displaced person in one of Malamud's stories, now returned to us, complete and fulfilled and recognized at last.
The volume gathers together 55 stories, from "Armistice" (1940) to "Alma Redeemed" (1984), and including the immortal stories from The Magic Barrel and the vivid depictions of the unforgettable Fidelman. It is a varied and generous collection of great examples of the modern short story, which Malamud perfected, and an ideal introduction to the work of this great American writer.
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- Geir Skårland
Good short stories
Though a long listen, these stories are well crafted, realistic and precise. They are never sentimental, but always meaningful and engaging. They frequently refer to a Jewish context, in a modern, nuanced and interesting way, but mainly centres around art, love and life’s struggles. Recommended.
1 person found this helpful
New Lesson: Audible Is NOT for Short Stories
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
Yes, its genius writer.
Any additional comments?
I own the hard copy of this book and know the stories well, some of which I also taught several times. I adore Malamud. I needed to re-read this particular volume, in its entirety, for a research project and thought that listening to it, instead, could be a great new way to appreciate it. Oh boy! I will never buy an audiobook of short stories again. I understand (now) that audiobooks are great for novels, but not for short narratives. You don’t have the time to get used to the voice of the narrator, to penetrate deeply a story through that performer’s voice and interpretation. It was awful. I could not pay attention, and I did not like some of the voices either (particularly, one of the female readers in the bunch).
I highly recommend this book in print but would discourage everybody from purchasing the audio-version.
5 people found this helpful
- Blind Girl
The Complete Stories + intro
Malamud is probably one of the top 5 short story-writers of world literature. In my view these are not else but fine tiny lessons on humanity. This complete edition will leed you through the oeuvre with brilliant narrators. Attention! Infinitely addictive!
The audiobook contents the following pieces:
The Grocery Store
The Place Is Different Now
The Literary Life of Laban Goldman
The Cost of Living
The First Seven Years
The Death of Me
A Confession of Murder
The Girl of My Dreams
The Magic Barrel
A Summer’s Reading
The Last Mohican
The Lady of the Lake
Behold the Key
The Maid’s Shoes
suppose a Wedding
Life Is Better Than Death
Black Is My Favorite Color
The German Refugee
A Choice of Profession
A Pimp’s Revenge
Man in the Drawer
My Son the Murderer
Pictures of the Artist
Glass Blower of Venice
The Silver Crown
Notes from a Lady at a Dinner Party
A Lost Grave
In Kew Gardens
In the print edition you find an intro by Robert Giroux. You can read it below.
“Working alone to create stories is not a bad way to live our loneliness,” Bernard Malamud wrote not long before his death, in a characteristically modest statement which identifies a major theme of his writing. And as a result of his lonely work, readers have gained a body of short fiction unlike that of any other writer. Robert Alter called these stories “products of a unique imagination … Only Bernard Malamud could have written them.” In his memoir “Long Work, Short Life,” Malamud acknowledged: “My writing has drawn, out of a reluctant soul, a measure of astonishment at the nature of life.” Between 1940 (when he began) and his death in 1986, he produced some of the most original and memorable stories of his era. This book brings them all together for the first time. He started out in the early 1940s by publishing stories in noncommercial magazines—“meaning I didn’t get paid for them but was happy to have them published”—until in 1949 Harper’s Bazaar bought “The Cost of Living” and his professional career was launched. At Harcourt, Brace in 1952 I took on his first novel, The Natural, and we signed a two-book contract, intending that his second book would be a collection of stories. I did this because with the help of my friend Catharine Carver (then the first-reader at Partisan Review) I had read his unpublished story “The Magic Barrel,” which revealed his mastery of the short-story form. I was happy to become the editor and publisher of an important new writer. Before Bern’s second book was ready, I moved from Harcourt, Brace to become vice president and editor in chief at Farrar, Straus and Company. I thought I had lost him, owing to the two-book contract, but things worked out surprisingly. When Bern told me Harcourt had turned down his new book, I blurted: “I can’t believe they’d reject your stories!” and he said, “No, it’s a novel, The Assistant. Would you like to read it?” It was excellent, and Farrar, Straus published the novel in 1957. The next year, we brought out The Magic Barrel (as his collection was called); it won the National Book Award, the first such award for the firm. Thus began the splendid cavalcade of eight novels and four volumes of stories that constitute his oeuvre. When FSG republished The Natural in 1961, all his books were in print on our list. A fellow writer once called Malamud a “stern moralist.” Moralist, of course, but stern was not his style. I came to admire the character of this gentle man more and more. As Bern’s talent burgeoned, our personal relationship deepened into a close and abiding friendship. We shared many interests, especially a love of music and (with his wife, Ann) of opera. Bern and I were born not only in the same year but in the same month; in the Depression we had both worked our way through college in New York; and nothing was more important to each of us than the book. Once, as a birthday present, he gave me a rare item, Thomas Merton’s translation of Guigo the Carthusian’s “On the Solitary Life,” in a limited edition from the press of his Bennington colleague Claude Fredericks. During Bern’s presidency of the PEN American Center (1979—81), when FSG was awarded the fifth annual Publisher Citation, he arranged for the ceremony to take place on my birthday. (The citation bears his personal accent: “For distinctive and continuous service to international letters, to the dignity and freedom of writers, and to the free transmission of the printed word across the barriers of poverty, ignorance, censorship and repression.”) There’s a famous joke about a movie producer who was asked if he’d read The Wings of the Dove and answered, “Not personally.” One memorable evening at Bennington College, when Governor Snelling presented Bern with the Vermont Arts Council Award, it was clear that he had read Malamud personally. The spirits of Bern’s departed colleagues Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman permeated the proceedings, and the whole ceremony became a family affair. Also, there was an unexpected Malamudian experience in Japan, where I lectured under the USIA cultural exchange program in five cities, in four of which only Ernest Hemingway seemed to be of interest. But at the University of Hiroshima, when Professor Katsuhiro Jinsaki asked me to meet with his students in American literature, I was delighted when the class asked only about Bernard Malamud, whose books they knew thoroughly. I thought this would surprise Bern on my return, but he grinned and said, “Professor Jinsaki and I have had a voluminous correspondence. He’s the Malamud expert.”
Bernard Malamud was born in Brooklyn on April 26, 1914, the elder of the two sons of Bertha Fidelman and Max Malamud, immigrants from Russia. They had worked hard to establish a local late-night grocery store, a setting destined to become familiar in their son’s writing. After changing locations over the years, they finally settled on Mc-Donald Avenue, where the family lived in rooms over the store. In 1929, when Bern was fifteen, his mother died and his father remarried. (“After the death of my mother, I had had a stepmother and a thin family life,” he revealed.) Eugene, his younger brother, was twice hospitalized for schizophrenia and died at age fifty-five. Bern went to school at P.S. 181 in Brooklyn, graduated in 1932 from Erasmus Hall high school, and entered City College in New York, where he received his B.A. in 1936. “I had hoped to write short stories after graduation from City College during the Depression,” he explained, “but they were long in coming. I had ideas and felt I was on the verge of sustained work. But at that time I had no means of earning a living, and as the son of a poor man, a poor grocer, I could not stand the thought of living off him, a generous and self-denying person … I registered for a teacher’s examination and afterwards worked a year at $4.50 a day as a teacher-in-training in a high school [Lafayette] in Brooklyn.” He recorded how he felt when he took civil service exams for postal clerk and letter carrier: “This is mad, I thought, or I am. Yet I told myself the kind of work I might get didn’t matter so long as I was working for time to write.” In the spring of 1940 he accepted a civil service job at the census bureau in Washington, D.C. “All morning I conscientiously checked estimates of drainage ditch statistics, as they appeared in various counties in the United States. Although the work hardly thrilled me, I worked diligently and was promoted after three months … After lunch I kept my head bent low while I was writing stories at my desk.” It was a lonely rooming-house existence in the capital. That summer he wrote a non-fiction piece for The Washington Post, about the fall of France after the German Army was “obscenely jubilant in conquered Paris.” He recalled, “I felt unhappy, as though mourning the death of a civilization I loved, yet somehow I managed to celebrate ongoing life and related acts. Though I was often lonely, I stayed in the rooming house night after night trying to invent stories I needn’t be ashamed of.” One such story, “Armistice,” the first in this book, is about the fall of France as it affects an American grocer and his son. Bern earned his master’s degree in English literature at Columbia University in 1942, with a thesis on Thomas Hardy’s poetry, and by 1943 his first stories had begun to appear in little magazines like Assembly, Threshold, American Prefaces, and New Threshold. In 1945 he married Ann de Chiara; their son, Paul, was born in 1947 and their daughter, Janna, in 1952. He received an offer in 1949 to teach at Oregon State College. A severe critic of his own work, he destroyed the manuscript of his first completed novel, The Light Sleeper, “one night in Oregon because I thought I could do better.” His first book, then, was The Natural, a novel about the reality and fantasy of baseball, published in 1952. He dedicated it to his father, who died shortly thereafter. (“What does a writer need most? When I ask this question, I think of my father.”) He wrote “The Magic Barrel” in a carrel in the basement of the college library. Partisan Review published it in 1954. In 1956— 57, on sabbatical leave, he traveled in Europe and lived in Rome on a Rockefeller grant sponsored by Partisan Review, a period from which his stories with Italian settings are drawn. The Assistant, published in 1957, won the Rosenthal Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. The Magic Barrel was published in 1958, followed by six novels: A New Life (1961), The Fixer (1966), The Tenants (1971), Dubin’s Lives (1979), God’s Grace (1982), and the unfinished The People (1989), which appeared posthumously. The other collections of stories were Idiots First (1963); Pictures of Fidelman (1969), a book of related stories set in Italy; and Rembrandt’s Hat (1973). In September 1961 he joined the faculty of Bennington College, where he taught for the rest of his life. He won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Fixer. New York University honored him with the Elmer H. Bobst Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him their prestigious Gold Medal for Fiction in 1983. (The latter is given only at five-year intervals, and it was presented by his friend Ralph Ellison.) In 1985 he received a major Italian award, the Mondello Prize, at an annual literary festival in Sicily. One night in March 1986, when the Malamuds were dinner guests of Roger and Dorothea Straus, Bern stated that he was four chapters from the end of his first draft of The People and believed it would be finished by the fall. The next afternoon, March 18, he died of a heart attack after working at his desk.
The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud includes fifty-five stories, starting in 1940 with “Armistice” and closing with the last two stories he wrote in the 1980s, while experimenting with new forms. (In his 1983 notes he calls them “fictive biographies” and “biographed stories.” “In Kew Gardens,” about Virginia Woolf, and “Alma Redeemed,” about Alma Mahler, were both published in 1984; the odd biographical details of the lives of these famous women sound fantastic but are literally true—that is his point.) The fifty-five stories are arranged as accurately as possible in the order of composition rather than publication. They reveal an astonishing development over forty years, from the realism of the grocery-store and Brooklyn background stories to the fantasy and freedom of stories like “The Jewbird,” “Talking Horse,” “Angel Levine,” and “The Magic Barrel.” Only one story, “Suppose a Wedding,” about the family of an unmarried daughter, is in dramatic form. As far as anyone knows, Bern made no other attempt to write a play, though he was always interested in the theater. He told me his uncle Charles Fidelman had been a prompter at the Yiddish Theater on Second Avenue and had toured with a repertory company in Buenos Aires. “Suppose a Wedding” was first published in 1963 in London in the New Statesman. (In 1996 it was set to music as an opera by Dr. Leonard Lehrman.) Another early story, “A Confession of Murder,” was in fact written as the first chapter of a novel, The Man Nobody Could Lift which he abandoned. Since it is a self-contained narrative with a surprise ending which he preserved, his executors decided to include it as an uncollected story. “Steady Customer,” written in 1943, was recently discovered in New Threshold. (That issue of the magazine also ran an early story by Madeleine L’Engle, written when she was a Smith undergraduate, and a piece against “Jim Crow” by Eleanor Roosevelt.)
Flannery O‘Connor, a great story writer herself (whose work Bern admired), quietly revealed what she thought of his genius in a letter to her friend “A” on June 14, 1958: “I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself. Go to the library and get a book called The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud.” Richard Gilman in his excellent New Republic memorial piece, “Malamud’s Grace,” called him “a story-teller in an era when most of our best writers have been suspicious of straightforward narrative. He was both [a realist and a fantasist]. I don’t mean he alternated between reality and fantasy, but that at his best the line between the two was obliterated. Observation gave way to imagining.” Gilman added that “a story like ‘The Jewbird’ (to my mind perhaps his finest), a piece that appears all whimsy and allegorical effort, is anchored in pebbly actuality.” In her moving tribute to Malamud at the memorial service held for him at the 92nd Street Y, Cynthia Ozick remembered his reading of his story “The Silver Crown,” which was “so electrifying that I wished with all my heart it was mine.” Both Gilman and Ozick rightly praised his highly individual stylistic gifts. Ozick mentioned the “heat of a Malamudian sentence.” Gilman cited “the pleasures of the text, the little fates of language,” giving these examples: “He drew on his cold embittered clothing” (Idiots First); “Life, despite their frantic yoohooings, had passed them by” (“The Magic Barrel”); “He pitied her, her daughter, the world. Who not?” (“The Girl of My Dreams”); “His heart, like a fragile pitcher, toppled from the shelf and bump bumped down the stairs, cracking at the bottom” (“The Death of Me”); “The window was open so the skinny bird flew in. Flappity-flap with its frazzled black wings. That’s how it goes. It’s open, you’re in. Closed, you’re out, and that’s your fate” (“The Jewbird”); “Exaltation having gone where exaltation goes” (“The Last Mohican”). Ozick asked: “Is he an American Master? Of course. He not only wrote in the American language, he augmented it with fresh plasticity, he shaped our English into startling new configurations … He wrote about suffering Jews, about poor Jews, about grocers and fixers and birds and horses and angels in Harlem and matchmakers and salesmen and rabbis and landlords and tenants and egg candlers and writers and chimpanzees; he wrote about the plentitude and unity of the world.” At the memorial service Daniel Stern stated that Malamud “came as close to making a religion of art as is possible; a religion of suffering and comedy, taking the Jew as his starting point for what was most human in humankind. All men are Jews—perhaps his most famous and most mysterious line.” Over the years I considered myself fortunate to be Bernard Malamud’s editor, and even more fortunate to be his friend. In 1983, when he put together The Stories of Bernard Malamud, the last book published during his lifetime, I was honored that he dedicated it to me. But even more I treasure his written inscription: “For Bob, my first and only editor.” His preface says, “Art celebrates life and gives us our measure.” His art has given us his measure and it is great.
In compiling this book I have had the generous help of Alice Birney, curator of the Bernard Malamud papers at the Library of Congress; Paul Elie, editor at FSG; Daniel Stern and Tim Seldes, with whom I serve as co-executors of the Malamud literary estate; and Ann Malamud, whose support, as usual, has been invaluable. I am grateful to them for their assistance.
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