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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
The Complete Stories (FSG Classics)
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on October 4, 2017
As I've mentioned before, if Malamud is known for anything its as a novelist, with one of his novels being adapted into a semi-famous movie and another winning the National Book Award. However, he was no slouch as a short story author either, with his first collection "The Magic Barrel" also winning the same award. Its the rare writer that can manage both formats with aplomb, as I've generally found that most short story writers who try to tackle novels wind up overwriting or taking an idea that should have been wrapped up in ten pages and vamping for two hundred, while most veteran novelists attempting the short story find themselves unable to handle cramming in all those themes and twists into about a tenth of the space without really messing with the pacing.

Malamud apparently had it figured out, although what may have helped him was a judicious sense of what to publish and what not to publish. He wasn't crazy prolific, managing about fifty-five short stories during his career, which suggests that he didn't try to publish anything until he a) had a good idea and b) was pretty sure it was finished, which is perhaps a methodical approach that might be a bit boring when compared to those writers who like to slap whatever ideas come to mind on paper and publish before the ink is still dry . . . but in this case it makes for some remarkably consistent writing. I've noted already that what really strikes me in his novels is how precise his prose is, with a sense of weight and space that suggests a calm voice that can both bury itself in the story and remain slightly detached . . . the closest comparison I can think of is Updike, but Malamud lacks what I always felt was Updike's sort of glossy and polished sheen that sometimes felt fussed over in its erudition and as such made it feel like the narrator, omniscient or otherwise, was staring down at the characters from a very great height. Malamud's narrators may be in a variety of places, but never seem too far away.

As the label says, this one contains all of his short stories (and my edition has perhaps the most writerly photograph of any man I've ever seen, a picture of him standing on the street in 1961 in a suit and coat) and if you're wondering exactly how many Malamud stories you need the answer is "pretty much all of them." Even when the stories themselves are merely pleasant and short, the little scenarios he constructs with his prose feel like fully formed worlds, whether they're taking place in someone's apartment or in various parts of Italy, and his characters are constantly possessed of sad and quiet thoughtfulness, a melancholy that only come when you've realized that the world isn't something you can affect as much as tolerate and live despite it.

All the famous stories are here, although since they're arranged chronologically they get buried in the mix and don't stick out until you stumble on them. "The Magic Barrel" is one of them, one of several stories whose ultimate resolutions seem destined to occur unsaid and between the lines, or five pages past where the story actually ends. Several have to do with a character named Fidelman who is hanging out in Italy and while I found the more exotic setting intriguing because I've actually been there, the stories seem to operate on a cultural contrast that doesn't always work with the impact he wants, though the unfolding of stories like "The Last Mohican", "Naked Nude" and "A Pimp's Revenge" is worth it just to watch the interplay.

In fact, most of my favorite ones were the stories that dwelled on the intricacies of interpersonal conflict and how religion and society and human nature affect how we deal with each other. Stories like "The Elevator" and "Rembrandt's Hat" (a late triumph), "The Mourners" are sometimes intensely bleak as people gradually are brought to face themselves and the consequences of their actions or inactions. Sometimes he veers toward a sort of magical realism, as in "The Angel Levine" or one of the more powerful stories "The Jewbird", which winds up starting as a goofy concept before sliding into what could be an intensely savage commentary on the human condition. What's amazing is how compressed his stories feel, unhurried but dense, patiently constructing a house with a single flaw that ultimately sends it crashing down in a tragic ballet of destruction ("The German Refugee" comes to mind).

There's never a bad story in here, with even the experimental ones toward the end retaining a searching vitality and curiosity, even if what few happy endings exists are defined more by thin smiles and tolerant glances than any kind of true joy. No matter what decade he's writing in, he's able to infuse any scenario, whether its the desperate housewife slipping notes into someone's pocket during a dinner party (the aptly titled "Notes From a Lady at a Dinner Party") or probably the only story besides "Jewbird" that made me stop at the end and have to rest a minute before moving onto the next one (for different reasons), "In Retirement", where the character's actions have "bad idea" written all over them but the ache in how it resolves is almost too intensely painful for prose.

But that's how he hits you, when you're not expecting it and once in a while where you are. I've liked both novels I've read from him so far but I wasn't quite prepared for how the accumulation of stories affected me after a while, like walking through an apartment building of empty rooms and sifting through the remains of sadness and perhaps some scant dignity. No matter what, there's a sense of humanity to his writing and a sense that he feels for his characters, even if there's no way he can actually help them. It adds up to a powerful repertoire and story for story makes the case that Malamud was one of our great American short story writers and if he's only relegated to college courses on Jewish writers and the occasional book club that's a darn shame.
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on November 3, 2012
"This is a good book." I think that says it best. It is long. I have forgotten much of it in the months since I read it. Even at that, it took me a while to get through the reading of it, but the book lends itself to that sort of discovery. The stories are mostly short, the themes are consistent and sympathetic. This is a good book. You can read it for a half an hour and walk away from it for a few days. Malamud clearly understands the work of writing. I'd fall short of calling him a master. His technique is good. His technique is very good, but I'm not sure he has the vision to be truly great writer.

The things I like most about it are have nothing to do with memorable selections, wisdom, or elegance. The book actually has few of those things which makes my four star review rather remarkable. Malamud is such a literary technician that he makes up for these failures, and that is a thing to experience. He moves a story along. He creates a great depth of character with only a few little snapshots. His voices have a sound. His New York has a smell and a character. It is a thing of interest just to look back over these stories just to see how he accomplishes so much with so little. They provide a good view into the mechanism of story-telling, and that is precisely because they fail really to have very much else to them. They are mostly very simple stories. He makes a few artistic leaps, which are more than awkward, but mostly he writes stories. They are good stories.

The second thing I really liked about this book was it's historical perspective. Malamud is so single minded and grounded in his time that what you get here is a cross-section of Jewish/American culture from the first World War on into the late 70's. As the generations shift, the stories also shift and the city changes with them. In these stories Malamud is inextricably bound up with his place in time. What this books amounts to is a witness of that place. This is something that I found myself dwelling over, even after the stories had faded.

This book has a lot to offer. I think you should get it. It's a good book.
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on July 24, 2015
Read one short story and you have read it all.
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on June 24, 2011
I know how people get when they review books on amazon.
People like sounding smart, and they slap together a "thoughtful" review that is actually just every single book they have ever read and a drawn comparison about five pages of the novel or whatever, and it tells you nothing about the book.

I'm a college student, and a teacher of mine recommended me an author who won the Pen Malamud award. Big fan of that guy, so: hey? Why not check out Malamud?

The complete stories are perfect. If not every story, then almost every story is exactly "right" and there really isn't another word for it.

It's just an entirely "perfect" book. I haven't read any of his novels yet, but I plan on it now, and I honestly can't imagine a more pleasurable reading experience than just sitting down for three or four days and doing nothing but reading this book.
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on July 7, 2005
I picked this book up because I liked the cover and I thought, however right or wrong, that a publisher would release a collection of this length to only a quality writer. I was not wrong; this man is a master. I have read "The First Seven Years" at least fifteen times, and I have my classes read it all the time. I wish I could have met Malamud.
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on May 26, 2000
Malamud is a wonderful storyteller. He creates compelling characters and vivid settings in every story. He brings people and places to life in just a few sentences. My favorites are the early stories, very short stories set in New York in the late 40s and early 50s. At the end of each story I wished he had written more, but wondered if the characters would have been less interesting if he had. There are many excellent longer pieces as well.
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on September 11, 2014
Bernard Malamud is not only the master of the short story form, but is unique in his presentation of the American Jewish experience, idiom and psychology. Any insight into American Jewishness in the 20th century is incomplete without a reading of Malamud. Additionally, his use of language is psychologically accurate and so interesting. This collection is a wonderful resource.
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on August 17, 1999
Malamud's stories capture and bring alive the post world war years in New York City, with Jews as the central characters. I came to these stories after I exhausted all of Malamud's novels. For those who are not familiar with Malamud, wherever you start, his novels or these short stories, you will be grateful you did.
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on December 12, 2008
There are very few short stories in this collection that aren't every bit as good as the brilliant novels (The Assistant and The Fixer) ... some are perhaps scaled down versions ... The Magic Barrel, for one.

Everybody should read Malamud at some point or other ...
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on June 10, 2002
Nobody comes close to Bernard Malamud as master of the short story in the 20th Century. As roll-overs from the 19th Century Thomas Mann and Henry James come pretty close but only pretty close.Its easier to write late Victorian and mal du siecle
stories than the less formalized stories of the common man who
frequents Malamud tales of the grubby depression-shocked heros
of the 30s and 40s.
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