Book Review: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
"People are sitting at a table having dinner, that's all, but at the same time … their lives are being torn apart."
Something has broken, is being “torn apart” in this book, this 1967 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Bernard Malamud, The Fixer. As in Chekov’s plays, things are falling apart (in Malamud’s story it is specifically czarist Russia that is falling apart) and Yakov Bok, a.k.a Yakov Shepsovitch, a.k.a. The Fixer, (also as in Chekhov our character has at least three names) finds himself at the dread center of it all with a bag of tools unfitted to the task. Yakov wonders (almost endlessly) if it’s his luck, his mistakes, but what becomes more and more clear as the novel winds on is that, though something is indeed broken, it is not with our main character. There’s something in the system, and not just the political system of Russia, it’s bigger than that; it’s the brutality of man to man, the lies we tell ourselves, human brokenness that lives on the inside and there’s nothing The Fixer with his awls and wood saw can do.
Through the story of one man, Yakov Bok/The Fixer, Malamud’s novel casts the pogroms of Russia in a historical and metaphorical light that is startling. In The Fixer there lives a telling of the suffering of the Jewish people in Russia permeated with a seeming foreknowledge of the Holocaust, not to mention, the metaphorical connections of one persecuted Jewish carpenter to another. The world is broken, things are falling apart; a somewhat common literary theme, but unlike in many stories (i.e. Chekov or even Malamud’s first book, that most-American of novels, The Natural, boasting a film adaptation starring Robert Redford) … there’s very little dinner.