The Jewbird: Overview

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Author: Jay L. Halio
Editor: Noelle Watson
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Work overview; Critical essay
Length: 1,020 words

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Although many of his stories and novels are written in a strictly realistic mode, some of Bernard Malamud's most compelling fiction combines realism and fantasy in ways that recall the tradition of Yiddish writers and artists such as Sholem Aleichem and Marc Chagall. On occasion his blending of these elements is extremely subtle, so that readers of his first novel, The Natural, may miss its mythic aspects and regard it purely as a baseball book, just as readers of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may find that novel to be simply a boy's adventure story and nothing more. But there can be no mistaking the combination of fantasy and reality in such important stories as "Angel Levine," "Take Pity," "Idiots First," and above all, "The Jewbird."

Malamud's basic technique in these stories is to combine fantasy and reality so that the fantasy appears almost as mundane, as natural, as the realism that surrounds and includes it. In "Take Pity," for example, it is not until the end that we become more fully aware that the entire interview between Davidov, the census-taker, and Rosen, the ex-coffee salesman, takes place in a kind of otherworldly limbo, or purgatory. In "Idiots First" at the start we scarcely recognize Ginzburg as an angel of death since he speaks in the same cadences and accents as Mendel, who is trying to scrape together enough money to send his retarded son to a relative in California before the hour of his death approaches—as it does at the very end...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420005272