atla's Reviews > The Assistant

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
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Jan 13, 09

bookshelves: 50bookchallenge-2009, novels, library
Read in January, 2009

When I picked this up, I had somehow gotten under the impression that The Assistant won the National Book Award in the 50's. I've only today learned that it was actually Malamud's later novel, The Fixer, that won the award (as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) in 1967. C'est la vie.

I wish I could decide how I feel about this novel, which portrays the lives of first and second generation Jewish immigrants in America in the 1950's. I found Malamud's writing style easy to adjust to and pleasant. It was simple, but tight. I appreciated that the character's, especially Frank, were portrayed in a way that made them hard to like or dislike, yet easy to identify with. Frank Alpine, the "goyim," a screw-up. It is almost like there are two Franks: the Frank that he is, and the Frank that he longs to be. (Isn't this true of everyone?) Often, even as he gives into temptation, he recognizes that he is falling back into old habit's, he is being Frank: the young man who held up a Jewish grocery; Frank: the voyeur; Frank: the petty thief rather than the patient, rational man that he can be with a little effort. He struggles to hide his lack of restraint, his impulsiveness, and to overcome it. But often, in failing, he brings his world and the people around down with him.

I found the ending a little close-minded, almost as if Malamud is saying "To be good, you must be Jewish."
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01/09/2009 page 66
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message 1: by Carol (new)

Carol Storm Your last sentence pretty much nails Malamud's whole message and his life's work too.

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