Tuesday, July 11, 2006
If I had to describe Malamud's The Assistant after the first 100 pages or so, I'm certain my summary would have failed miserably. It is not a story about deprivation or about loneliness. It is not a story about lost chances and desperation. It is a story about survival and hope. It is a story about redemption and aspiration. The heart of the novel is how we all struggle to survive in the world we live in, in the world that has formed around us. Sometimes it's because of our own actions, but oftentimes, it's the environment that shapes our world and darkens the doorways. But we always have hope. Morris Bober had hope. Helen Bober had hope. Frank Alpine had hope. And in times of disaster, when the lighted path fails to show itself, hope is our Beatrice. Whether it's Frank's hope to repay a debt that has sunken his soul or whether it's Helen's hope to go to college and better her life. This hope gets us through the long impenetrable months of solitude and loneliness.
Waking, she fought an old distrust of the broken-faced stranger, without success. The stranger had changed, grown unstrange. That was the clue to what was happening to her. One day he seemed unknown, lurking at the far end of an unlit cellar; next he was standing in sunlight, a smile on his face, as if all she knew of him and all she didn't, had fused into a healed and easily remembered whole.
Malamud gave Frank the passion and Helen the feelings and thoughts. The dichotomy of characters intriguing...partly because it goes against stereoptypes, but mostly because it gave the book movement. The characters, though sometimes lacking vigor to struggle through life, became people I knew. They were me and I was them. Part Frank, part Helen, part Morris. Malamud captured my humanity in a few characters in a couple hundred pages. Knowing my thoughts and writing what I would have said, Malamud is the voice of the street of New York and Boston. Moscow and Chicago. He knows us all so well.
Bernard Malamud The Assistant
Wallace Stegner Crossing to Safety
Plutarch Makers of Rome