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The Tenants by Bernard Malamud
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The Tenants

by Bernard Malamud

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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, it was the seventies.

Had I not known this was written by Malamud, I wouldn't have had the faintest idea from the writing. Maybe I should pretend it wasn't Malamud and approach it as an unknown author. There's some wonderful conflict in this story. The novel is largely about two writers at war with one another. Now, I roll my eyes almost anytime a story is written about writers, but I'll grant each and every author one token to play the writer card (but only one). The characters themselves are sort of cliché, but I think the author did a wonderful job making them believable and original within their caricatures.

Truth is, this story is all over the place. I couldn't tell what was dreams, what was imagined, what was novel. Did any of this really happen? Was some of what I read the novel that was being written by one of these imagined writers? Were there even two writers, or was this all merely the internal struggle of one writer? The author of The Tenants seems angry, confused, and hopeless, a person with a negative view of the world. And this is not how I remember Malamud.

So back to Malamud: I get the feeling that maybe this was a very personal story for the author. I get a sense that maybe his own personal life and writing life were unraveling. There's a sense that everything is falling apart, not only for these characters, but for the author as well. And maybe that wasn't the case, and if so, Malamud did a wonderful job painting chaos without having to be submersed in it. I don't know, I'm just trying to find the positive. Knowing this is Malamud, it sort of sucked, but even if I didn't have preconceived notions of the author, I still would've found The Tenants to be jarring, strained, and little more than okay. So, that being that case, I have decided to get back in my time machine and journey to the year I left off at: 1958. Maybe by the time I read through the sixties, 1970s Malamud will make complete sense. Or maybe it would be better to skip over the seventies altogether. ( )
  chrisblocker | Feb 17, 2014 |
00002798
  cavlibrary | Jun 3, 2013 |
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 to stay where the work was conceived until it is completed, ignoring his landlord's mounting desperation and not-so-subtle campaign of harassment, and resisting steadily increasing offers of cash to get the hell out. Harry, alone in a building with thirty rental units, discovers one day that he is not alone, that another writer is using one of the vacant apartments for creative purposes. Willie Spearmint, a young black man with a chip on his shoulder and the spirit and anger to back it up, is writing a work about the Black experience in America. The two meet and start talking about creativity and the art of writing. Unavoidably, they are drawn into each other’s lives, and it is at this point that Harry's fate is sealed, because Willie asks him to read his work and comment on it. The clash that ensues is one that goes far beyond different approaches to writing. Harry preaches form and structure to a young man whose world has no use for either, and the result is a schism that attains its pinnacle when Harry falls in love with Willie's white girlfriend Irene, ultimately stealing her away from the other man. Malamud's tale of conflicting desires and irreconcilable cultural differences is a thinly veiled allegory that draws inspiration from the racial tensions of the late 1960s. The war between Harry Lesser and Willie Spearmint is about more than a woman, or words and how to get them down on paper, and eventually explodes into violence and vindictiveness. The Tenants is not among Malamud’s best works, though it might be his bravest and most audacious. Some of the action is forced and the reader loses patience with Harry when his insistence that he must stay in a building that is falling to pieces around him begins to seem unreasonable. But the power of the book in undeniable. In 1971 Malamud is suggesting that if we don’t quickly curb our passions and behave rationally, we will one day wake up to a reality where the success of one race will depend upon the failure of the other. When that happens can the destruction of our civilization be far behind? It is amazing and disconcerting to see that this story remains as relevant in 2013 as the day it was published. ( )
  icolford | May 25, 2013 |
In an empty inner-city tenement, 2 men meet; their confrontation as rivals becomes a metaphor of current human relations.
  Folkshul | Jan 15, 2011 |
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"Alive and with his eyes open he calls us his murderers."
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"I got to make it, I got to find the end..."

BESSIE SMITH
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For Janna
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Lesser catching sight of himself in his lonely glass wakes to finish his book.
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In an empty and crumbling tenement of the inner city, two men meet, and their confrontation as rivals - sexually, intellectually, physically - becomes a powerful and lyrical metaphor of human relations in our time.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374521026, Paperback)

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 Spearmint, a black writer ambivalent toward Jews, moves into the building. Henry and Willie are artistic rivals and unwilling neighbors, and their uneasy peace is disturbed by the presence of Willie's white girlfriend Irene and the landlord Levenspiel's attempts to evict both men and demolish the building. This novel's conflict, current then, is perennial now; it reveals the slippery nature of the human condition, and the human capacity for violence and undoing.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:04 -0400)

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