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Michael’s Review of Bernard Malamud’s “The Fixer” September 29, 2007

Posted by Michael in Literature.

I put this in the appropriate comment thread, but then decided to put it on the main page, because the thread is sorta dead. I finished this book late, but at least I got it done by the end of the month.

My overall review: B-

The book was alternately absorbing and tedious. I didn’t mind the tedious parts, because I *got* that I had to immerse myself in the suffering of Yakov in order to *get* the point of the book.

So, I made it to the end of book, and then it became clear that the (increasingly obvious) point of this absorbing story was tired leftist screed. It started when the lawyer Ostrovsky showed up at the prison to give Yakov a primer on pre-revolutionary Russian history and current politics. Russia was sick, it had a systemic need to oppress minorities, especially the Jews, but it was trying to liberalize through socialism, etc. All pretty superficial.

It ended with Yakov’s climactic imagined conversation with Tsar Nicholas in the iron prison carriage, culminating with the fantasized assassination of Nicholas by Yakov, who is persistently identified as a resolute “free-thinker.” In context, this means “socialist.” To me, this conversation with Nicholas was a shallow socialist cartoon. The end of the book was merely an apologia for the Russian Revolution and the horrific misery which ensued under Stalin, along with the murder of Nicholas.

In the process, we got a superficial treatment of Russian history, and of the complex character of Nicholas at a very difficult time in Russian history, about which I have read elsewhere. There was an absurd emphasis on his hemophiliac son, and nowhere near an adequate appreciation of the dynamic of the Romanov dynasty that squelched his liberal impulses.

I liked the way the book ended, with no hint as to the fate of Yakov. It struck me as fitting that Malamud did not tell us, because Yakov’s fate was beside the point.

I would have assumed that he died in Siberia, and was gratified to learn from Skinbad in Comment #45 of the Discussion Thread for The Fixer that Yakov was based on a real historical character who become a cause celebre in Europe.

Bottom line: This book won a Pulitzer Prize because of its socialist politics. It was well written, but not that well. The novelty of the writing was mostly Jewish Shtick, and you can get much better versions of that in Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” or Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen”.


1. Michael - September 29, 2007

BTW, the prime rib I cooked today in Mr. Lamm’s Heavy Metal Genuine Texas Barbecue™ is awesome. Cathy treated the meat with a BBQ spice rub that I bought online from Dr. Chile Pepper (scroll down to the sixth item).

This is the same web site where I buy Marie Sharp’s Belizean hot sauce.

2. Michael - September 29, 2007

Cathy and I are going back to Belize in January, so we’ll stock up on hot sauce then in order to avoid the shipping charges. In the meantime, I recently was compelled to reorder some Marie Sharp’s.

3. daveintexas - September 29, 2007

you commented twice on your own post.

and didn’t comment in the thread for the story.


4. Michael - September 29, 2007

you commented twice on your own post.

and didn’t comment in the thread for the story.


Dave, I call this “seeding” the comments for my own post. It has to be on an unrelated subject, so that it draws in some suckers.

Like you.

5. Cathy - September 29, 2007

Only a B- Michael?

I rate it higher. I got the Russian history and political stuff, but figured Malamud used the historical character and the impending revolution to take us into the inner turmoil of a person and his experiences suffering.

Readers were permitted to be voyeurs into Bok’s inner thoughts and experiences of learning what he could not learn in books… that it is painful to hope for something…that God does not have a need to explain himself… that freedom given to another can not be selfishly hoarded… just to name a few. I thought it was rich with learning.

On second thought, maybe I rendered all that crap I just spouted off because I needed to find something to take away for my endurance and completion of the race to The End.

All in all, I am still grateful to Lipstick and Kevlarchick for selecting it. Thanks, Ladies!

6. Lipstick - September 30, 2007

Oh all praise goes to KC. I was in Canada and then sick as a dog afterward (and still), so she did all the work.

7. Cathy - September 30, 2007

Sorry to hear the and still Lipstick.
Well — Kudos to KC anyway.

8. Lipstick - September 30, 2007

Thank you Cathy. I’m now on antibiotics AND Mr. LS is home, so life is a lot better.

Now I get to keep him awake with the coughing and snoring too!

9. Michael - September 30, 2007

It’s not really a good thing when chicks cough and snore.

I don’t like that chicks are affirming each other about this on my site.

10. TattooedIntellectual - September 30, 2007

Any thoughts on tackling some of the classics, or is the feeling that everyone has already read those?

11. kevlarchick - September 30, 2007

I read The Chosen and was bored out of my skull.

Since I’m not a very political person, or well-read in history, I liked the Jewish shtick of the story. Simple, clear, sometimes funny, sometimes hearbreaking.

I’ve read plenty of “award winning” and “classic” novels/books and find many of them to be pretentious, snooty, boring, and overwritten. I think The Fixer is an exception.

12. daveintexas - September 30, 2007

Dave, I call this “seeding” the comments for my own post


13. Cathy - September 30, 2007


Is heh half a laugh for you? Or whole?

14. daveintexas - September 30, 2007

just a half.

15. Sobek - October 1, 2007

TI, I’m all for the classics (ideally, something that’s classic enough to be classic, but obscure enough that most people haven’t read it). I haven’t gotten a different impression from this group. I have the December pick, and I’ve been considering picking a classic.

Actually, I was thinking about Russian literature, but we just did a book about Russia, so now I’m thinking I’ll pick something else.

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