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Bernard Malamud: A New Life

Malamud spent some of his early career at Oregon State University and this is his novel of that experience. This is not to say that Sy Levin is Malamud but it is clear that he used the experience to colour his novel. Levin is a New Yorker. His father died in prison, his mother killed herself and he is a recovering alcoholic. When he gets an opportunity to teach at Cascadia in Oregon, he jumps at it. He has visions of the old-style, bucolic West and a liberal arts college. He is wrong on both counts. Cascadia has long since given up its liberal programme, focusing on agriculture and the like, and he has been hired for English composition. He soon comes up against dull students, arch-conservative colleagues and, of course, the usual college politics. There is little to inspire him. He has a few dull affairs – a waitress, a student, a colleague – but none of them bring him any satisfaction. Finally, he latches onto Pauline Gilley, wife of Gerard Gilley his boss. Gilley is a flawed man. He does not like literature, shows that the countryside is anything but bucolic with his aggressive hunting and fishing and cannot have children (he and Pauline have two adopted children). Levin’s affair with Pauline is hardly the great romance but, unlike Gilley, he does manage to get her pregnant. However, as always, there is a price to pay and, at the end, he doesn’t seem to be any better off than he was at the beginning. But Malamud’s tale is witty and clever and makes the point that even half-hearted love is better than no love.

Publishing history

First published 1961 by Farrar, Straus & Cudahy