Thursday, November 29, 2012

#61 - "The Assistant" by Bernard Malamud

After over two months, I am again writing a review of a book from the list.  It's been so long, I sort of wonder if I remember how to do so.

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud is the story of Morris Bober who owns a failing grocery store somewhere in New York, after the War.  Bober leads a rather miserable life with his wife and adult daughter, watching his store slowly go out of business.  But things get even worse after two masked men rob the grocer of the $15 in his till and send him to the hospital.  After a few days, Frank Alpine shows up and offers to help Morris with his store, without pay, to "learn the business" of running a grocery store.  Soon, business picks up a bit, and things start to maybe look up for old Morris.  But the upswing is short-lived, and before long Frank is stealing money from the till, and falling in love with Helen, Morris' daughter, while the store continues its downward spiral.  

It can never be said that The Assistant is an uplifting story, as it is rather depressing from start to finish.  Even when things do start to look up, the writing implies that it won't last and things are going to worsen, as Morris and his store march toward their inevitable conclusion.  Every upswing is only a way of teasing the reader into thinking that maybe, just maybe, things will work out.

Frank Alpine is a very interesting character, one of the best from the list so far.  Like Harry Angstrom in Rabbit, Run, he has his faults that usually hurt those he is closest too.  But unlike Harry, Frank has good intentions and as a result is much more likable.  It is almost as if Frank is as unlucky as Morris, and everything he does turn out wrong through no fault of his own. Throughout the book I found myself very sympathetic to Frank and his struggles, and always wished he could catch a break. 

This was a book I enjoyed very much, and as usual it was because of the interesting characters.  I have perfect visions of each of the main players, feel I understand their motivations and their traits, and feel I developed a relationship with each of them.  The only frustrating part of having developed this relationship was, as is common in so many great novels, that I knew things would not work out for them, no matter how much I hoped they would.  Like watching a car accident in slow motion, you know what is going to happen, and you're not looking forward to it, but you can't turn away.  With every page I turned I knew things would worsen for Morris and his family, but I had to know exactly how it would unfold.

The Assistant is the sort of book I wish all 100 books were like.  I don't mean I wish every book on the list was depressing, but that I wish every book was of a similar style and setting.  I guess what I mean to say, is that through 61 books, I am finally starting to get a firm idea of what kind of books I enjoy and what kind of books I don't.  Looking at the remaining 39, I see which ones are going to cause me trouble and which ones I'm probably going to like.

My next read will be book two of Lord of the Rings, after which I will begin book #62, which is yet to be determined.

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