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The Tenants

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  647 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
With a new introduction by Aleksandar Hemon

In The Tenants (1971), Bernard Malamud brought his unerring sense of modern urban life to bear on the conflict between blacks and Jews then inflaming his native Brooklyn. The sole tenant in a rundown tenement, Henry Lesser is struggling to finish a novel, but his solitary pursuit of the sublime grows complicated when Willie Spearm
Paperback, 248 pages
Published September 18th 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1971)
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(showing 1-30)
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Nov 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: experimental

Before reading THE TENANTS, my only exposure to Bernard Malamud was his wonderful baseball novel THE NATURAL. That was almost ten years ago. To be honest, I had forgotten all about him -- even if I do think that THE NATURAL is one of the finest books of fiction about my favorite sport.

So let's come to the present. THE TENANTS.

The story centers on Harry Lesser, a novelist who has seen success with one novel, followed by a sophomore stinker. For the past ten years he has been labori
Apr 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: readers who want to know the world in its noisy entirety
Recommended to John by: Probably a fellow teacher
(First, for the record: the review that posted a couple of days ago was incomplete. The mistake was mine, not GR's. Thanks to Alan & Shane for helping me notice this)

Bernard Malamud brought off some of the most finely-balanced American short stories of the 50 years, tent-shaped angularities of terror vs. magic vs. the stubborn quandary over what's right. "The Magic Barrel," "The Jew-Bird," these & other stories tug at the neck-hairs beautifully. Yet the work of this author that taught me
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
Terrific book ostensibly about Afro-Semitic relations in New York set in an all but empty apartment building with intermittent electricity, rats running around and rarely flushable toilets. The landlord offers Harry Lesser, a Jewish novelist increasing amounts of money to leave (he's the last tenant), but he refuses to do so until he finishes his third novel which he has spent ten years on and thinks the disturbance would ruin it. He finds a squatter in a flat below who is black and also a write ...more
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
My God, that was a good book! I bought an old edition of Malamud's "The Tenants" at a used book sale a year ago because I am familiar with and like his work and have taught some of his short stories in my introductory literature courses. But none of my previous knowledge about Malamud's work prepared me for this edgy and disturbing masterpiece. The novel is set in the late 1960s, early 1970s in a borough of New York City in a run-down tenement building, and when we arrive in this world it is the ...more
May 20, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bernard Malamud's The Tenants, published in 1971, is the fraught story of the novelist Harry Lesser, last remaining tenant of a dilapidated New York apartment building. His landlord wants to demolish the old and get on with building something new, but Harry is exercising his statutory rights as a tenant and can't, under the law, be evicted. Harry is in the final stages of writing a novel and, fearing the disruptive effects that packing up and moving will have on his creative process, has decided ...more
Chris Blocker
Perhaps I should've read Malamud's works in order, because I just jumped through time into a completely different author. I've read Malamud's first two books and loved them; I even loved the crazy debut novel about baseball for crying out loud. Then I stepped over five other books and landed in the 1970s. 1970's Malamud is not the same as 1950's Malamud. Gone is the easygoing, beautiful prose that glimmers; in its place is a noisy, experimental tale that felt more like cocaine on the brain. Hey, ...more
Apr 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The reputation of The Tentants as a novel of Afro-Semitic race relations gave me low, low expectations. After getting burned bad by Rabbit Redux and Updike's retrospectively cartoonish take on "hip" African American culture in the '70s I'd expected a similar letdown. The Tenants surprised me by unfolding as a novel just as much - or more - about writing and the creative process as a novel about race. Racial tension figures prominently, I can't deny, but it seems to be more a narrative tool than ...more
Nov 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
Supposedly about man's inhumanity to man, but really about one guy taking another guy's girl (when neither of them really give a shit about her), and one writer trying to destroy another's work (although both are insatiably intrigued at what the other one is up to). The ending COMPLETELY falls apart due to Malamud's inadequacies...and, no, I don't believe it was intentional just because the book was about a writer who couldn't finish his novel after working on it for the last ten years. Still, t ...more
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
For context, I have only read "The Assistant" and "The Fixer," and none of Malamud's other books. I guess this just wasn't what I was expecting compared to the other two books I'd already read -- it is much more experimental in nature, and not as in depth about the characters. However, it wasn't just because it simply was this in this style that made me dislike the book (because I love other books that are both experimental and wider in scope) -- I just didn't feel as emotionally invested in thi ...more
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
What an incredible book. I mean, the characters are nothing more (yet, sometimes, something more) than racial caricatures straight out of a Dave Berg "Lighter Side of..." comic strip from the 70s but Malamud uses them to teach so much about the craft of writing - the art, the fear, the envy - that it will make you sick (in a good way).

I wouldn't agree with the jacket copy saying that this is/was his best work to date (Come on!, to quote Gob Bluth, I mean, but, hello, The Natural set an unusuall
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In this 1971 novel by author Bernard Malamud, Harry Lesser, a Jewish writer is the lone tenant in a New York City resident building that is being abandoned. He is struggling with the landlord to allow him to stay there until he finishes the last chapter of his novel, as he likes the quiet of the old building. One night, however, while he is there, he hears typing and discovers a black man named Willie Spearmint who unbeknown to the landlord, has taken up temporary residence in the building. Afte ...more
Aug 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is my first experience with Malamud. It isn't bad. I kind of get sick of the whole writer writing about a writer writing thing. It kind of gets tired. Still, he has some well developed, interesting characters. The pacing is good and the plot interesting. It reminded me of Henry Miller a little, though I think I like Malamud better. I'll be checking out his other stuff.
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nederlands
I couldn't really get into this book.
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en

Ya hablé de Bernard Malamud en esta reseña de otra novela suya. En este caso, y gracias a la misma editorial podemos gozar nuevamente de otra muestra de su buen hacer; la sencillez argumental de la novela “Los inquilinos” esconde sin embargo una complejidad de forma y fondo con una serie de ideas que subyacen desde el principio y que vertebran el texto que nos ofreció el escritor en las apenas doscientas páginas de las que consta.

De entre esta
Rita O'Connell
May 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
Meh. A Jew and a Black are writers and they hate each other and they treat women like objects. Yawn. What happened, Malamud?
Christian Schwoerke
Feb 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I recall reading this novel shortly after it had come out in 1971. I had fallen in love with his “The Natural” and admired the “The Assistant,” but I recall that I didn’t know how to appreciate this particular novel. I’m better prepared this time around, after having read “Dubin’s Live” and the “Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud” back in November 2013. I can now see that he’s working some of the same artist-as-subject material he covers in that novel and in all of the Fidelman stories. In all ...more
Brad Spurgeon
Oct 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Finally a fiction that has me addicted. I picked this up to take with me on my current trip, which has me bopping all over the place in airplanes and capable of working only as long as my computer battery lasts. It is with great pleasure that I see the battery power run out so I can get back to this book. About a couple of writers living in a run down tenement house, this book is original and captivating, both from the point of view of the fiction writer's life and addiction and from the point o ...more
Richard Knight
Aug 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Basically, a book that makes you hate and distrust black people even more than you already do. It's hard to find a book written in the past (Hell, it's difficult to find now) where a black character is admirable unless he's a slave and telling Huck Honey to get back on the boat. Most black characters are seen as vicious, untrustworthy individuals (who don't talk in complete sentences), and Malamud continued with that tradition. The only book I can really think of that had a redeemable, respectab ...more
Sep 04, 2008 rated it it was ok
Not as good as earlier Malamud. Especially his short story collections "The Magic Barrel" and "Idiots First".

Probably was regarded as risky (and risque) material for a writer his age. He was probably approaching 60 when he wrote this book. The book deals with a white Jewish writer and an African-American writer who "work", i.e. do their writing, in the same crumbling tenement scheduled for demolition. By today's standards fairly stereotypical black/white portrayals. Occasional surreal passages o
Jim Puskas
Apr 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: human-relations
In this book Malamud shows a gallows humor beyond any of his other books and in places it can only be described as grotesque. Malamud's choice of themes is not promising: The story of a writer struggling to turn ideas into a coherent novel has been the centerpoint of many a book and seldom delivers an inspiring and enjoyable work of art. Racial conflict (in this case between urban Jews and blacks) has also been covered many times. By combining those two themes, we get a double dose of both: two ...more
Sep 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Oooook. So the pacing of this book is gorgeous- deliberate and fascinating- particularly how it speeds up like an out of control train that flies off the tracks at the end upwards of a thousand miles per hour. The ending of this book is intensely terrifying, and also brilliantly justified.

Harry and Willie, a middle aged white man and a middle aged black man, are passionate writers essentially squatting in a decrepit tenement building slated for demolition as they painstakingly type their novels
Jan 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: jewish-fiction
In the process of "deaccessioning" some of my books--*gulp*--I came across this one, and surprisingly, through research of old journal entries, learned that this was not required reading for a class, but something I chose to buy, along with "Lovingkindness" by Anne Roiphe, as research for my collegiate "novel thesis" about a Jewish American family. This one did not touch me as much as "Lovingkindness," perhaps due to self-centered reasons both on my part and Malamud's--he was writing of male wri ...more
May 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Incredible. I was very surprised to find that The Tenants is so different from The Fixer in style, period and mood.

Mallamud disguises this book. He tricked me into believing that it was a story about self realization in which the hero ties up all of his loose ends after learning his lesson the hard way. It's not that I don't enjoy that kind of story, but The Tenants is just so much more than that. Mallamud does not miss one opportunity to create profound art with his words. His message is so imp
Nathan Paul
May 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
This book started off a little slowly, but it got a lot better after about twenty or so pages. It deals with a Jewish writer who is struggling to finish a book he has been trying to write for almost a decade. The writer (Harry Lesser) stubbornly refuses to move out of his apartment in a dilapidated old apartment building, much to the constertation of the landlord, Mr. Levenspiel. While still in his apartment, Lesser encounters Willie Spearmint, a highly intelligent yet thin-skinned African Ameri ...more
Nov 23, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
un palazzo in attesa di demolizione in cui harry lesser continua a vivere sperando di finire il suo romanzo, l'arrivo di willie spearmint- anche lui scrittore e la rivalità fra i due uomini che sarà letteraria, razziale (uno è ebreo e l'altro afroamericano) e anche sentimentale. romanzo abbastanza tardo di malamud (è del 1971) e anche molto diverso dalle altre cose sue che ho letto- eppure particolare e interessante nel raccontare l'ansia creativa che diventa quasi una gara e le differenze tra d ...more
Jul 10, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here's a book that shows its age in its pernicious portrayal of Black anti-Semitism long since out of fashion even among the most zealous of our crackpots.

E for effort, and T for nice try. Fuckin' Ofay.

See that? I flipped it. It's me, y'all.

But seriously, I question this book's continued relevance, except as a cultural/historical document, which happens to be written by a sometimes great writer.
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant. Perhaps Malamud's finest work. If you are a writer yourself you'll find yourself identifying with Lesser and his desperate race to finish his novel. If you have ever considered wanting to write for a living, you'll love this book. Malamud has a way with words that's just breathtaking. It's present in The Assistant, it's present in the Fixer, and it's present here. And with three "endings," The Tenants' structure and plot never fails to captivate the reader. 5 Stars.
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2009
This was a disappointment as I'm a big fan of BM--one of the very few 5 stars on goodreads I gave to one of his books. I don't hand those things out very much! This novel, from 1970 or 1971 is incredibly dated to me. It is very much of the era of late '60s and early '70s when counter-culture and its off shoots dominated all kinds of creative avenues. The book is about writers, race, NY in the early '70s but just comes off dated, naive and kind of silly. Too bad.
Aug 21, 2012 added it
It's more experimental stylistically than other Malamud than I have read, and I like how his yiddish idiom is used for this more radical purpose. The plot is surreal and maybe symbolic - two writers, one white and one black, squatting in a tenement, trying to finish novels keep their wary distance. The stories within the story are trippy, disturbing, and still resonant.
I wanted to give the book 4 stars at the opening; then 3 stars about halfway; 5 3/4 of the way through and 2 stars by the end. It's quite...unstable. Perhaps that's intentional on the part of the author and I missed the subtle evidence of that fact. Either way, it's a book I would probably re-read in a few years time to see if maybe I missed something.
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Bernard Malamud was an author of novels and short stories. Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was one of the great American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel The Fixer, about antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
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