Sunday, March 16, 2014

Review: "The Tenants" by Bernard Malamud

This is novel, The Tenants, is a very different book than the other Bernard Malamud book I read, The Fixer. Not just in setting and time period, which are also vastly different, but in character and theme as well. The Fixer, if I can recall, is a book about sacrifice and becoming a better person. The Tenants is a lot different and a darker, focusing more on themes of selfishness, race relations, and the thin line between being an artists and just being an awful person. Comparing the two books, it is hard to believe that the same man wrote each of these books. The styles are a bit different as well, with this book less straightforward and more willing to take liberties with context and reality, both inside the story and outside of it in the reader’s imagination. The novel takes place in a rundown apartment complex, where a previously successful writer, Harry Lesser, is living like a pauper and trying to finish his third novel. In the midst of his struggle, another writer, a black man named Willie Spearmint, is trying to pump out his first novel, one he believes he has been preparing for all of his hard life. The two become friends, despite Willie’s murderous hatred of white people and Lesser’s weakening confidence. Their fragile bond is disrupted by two things, Lesser’s judgment of Willie books, which may or may not be out of jealousy, and the introduction of Willie’s white girlfriend, Irene, which sends them both on a violent road to confront their individual identity. The book is a bit outdated, with Willie and his friends being portrayed in a negative way that some may see as racists. But the themes are quite alive, especially near the end, when a bit of the supernatural is introduced, at least metaphorically, recalling some of Malamud’s shorts. Also, Willie’s stories are described nicely, making me wish they were real and available. This is a solid novel that works pretty damn good if you can keep your mind open.
Rating: 4/5

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