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Bernard Malamud: Dubin’s Lives

Dubin’s Lives might be said to be Malamud’s dirty old man novel. William Dubin is married to Kitty and is a professional biographer in his mid-fifties. As he admits, he lives vicariously through the lives of others. He himself has never had much passion or excitement in his life. This might, of course, reflect the subject of his biographies. But now he is doing D H Lawrence which, of course, spells sex and it comes in the form of Fanny Bick. She is a college drop-out who is working as a cleaner in the Dubin household. The attraction is mutual – she for his wisdom, he for her body. Dubin fabricates a trip to Italy to do research on Lawrence and takes Fanny. It goes wrong, of course. First she gets diarrhoea and then goes off with a gondolier. He goes back home but then she follows and they are reconciled. Malamud keeps up the Lawrence/sex pairing, as we follow the ups and downs of his affair with Fanny and his writing of the Lawrence biography. Though the plot is rather thin, what makes this novel one of Malamud’s most interesting is his development of the characters, particularly the Lubins and Fanny, and the psychology of people under stress, whether they are aware of it or not. It hasn’t had the fame of some of its predecessors, which is a pity as it deserves greater recognition.

Publishing history

First published 1979 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux