Malamud is one of the best known Jewish writers. His debut short story collection, The Magic Barrel, won the National Book Award For Fiction.
His collected stories are available in The Complete Stories. (Amazon) This volume has 55 stories spanning over 40 years.
Manischewitz is a fifty-one-year old tailor whose life suddenly goes bad. He loses his business, his children, his health and his wife becomes ill as well. One day an unannounced visitor appears in his living room. The man makes a surprising claim about his origin.
Morris Lieberman owns a small store in Brooklyn. He listens to the news everyday about the Nazis and the battles between the German and French armies. He has terrible memories from his youth of Jewish persecution. His son worries about the effect all the bad news has on him. One of his suppliers, Gus, always takes jabs at Morris.
Read “Armistice” (first story in Amazon preview)
“Black is My Favorite Color”
The narrator eats his lunch in the kitchen while his cleaning lady, Charity, eats in the bathroom. He owns a liquor store. He’s had lots of dealings with black people, mostly business related. He likes black people but his interactions with them don’t always go the way he wants.
“A Choice of Profession”
After finding out his wife was cheating on him, Cronin moved to California to take up teaching. He hoped this would bring him peace, but he soon becomes bored of it. He spends most of his time alone. In the spring term, a new student appears in his class—attentive to the material and also to him, attractive and a little older than most. He talks to Mary Lou a bit and decides to ask her out.
“The Death of Me”
Marcus became a clothier later in life. His store does well but he doesn’t make as much money as he could due to his ill health. He had to hire an assistant tailor and a presser to handle the workload. The tailor, Emilio, and the presser, Josip, develop a violent dislike for each other. They regularly get into heated arguments which affects the business. Marcus doesn’t know what to do about it.
“The First Seven Years”
Feld is a shoemaker. He thinks about Max, a college boy he used to see making his way to school in the cold or heat. He respects Max’s dedication to education. He had hoped his own daughter, Miriam, would go to college, but she isn’t interested. She reads on her own. Feld’s assistant, Sobel, works hard and is also a reader. One day Max comes to the shop. Feld takes the opportunity to direct him to Miriam.
“The German Refugee”
Oskar Gassner is a fifty-year-old German refugee in America in 1939. He has been hired by a university to give a lecture. He engages the services of a young tutor to improve his English and write his speech. He is discouraged by the language barrier; his motivation for his studies falters.
“The Girl of My Dreams”
Mitka burns the manuscript of his novel, along with letters to agents and rejection forms. He had sent it out for a year and a half without success. His writing style isn’t accessible enough. He’s vowed not to write again. His landlord, Mrs. Lutz, is also a writer and tries to associate with him. He reads a short story that gets his attention.
Mendel wakes up at supper time. He’s in pain and gets himself together slowly. He puts what money he has in his pocket. He helps his adult son, Isaac, who’s mentally much younger, put on his coat. They head for a pawnshop. Mendel needs thirty-five more dollars and he must have it tonight.
Read “Idiots First”
The Cohen family of Harry, Edie and Maurie are at the supper table. A skinny bird flies in through the open window right onto the table. To their surprise, it’s a talking bird and it’s Jewish. It flew in seeking refuge from anti-semitic birds.
Read “The Jewbird”
“Life is Better Than Death”
Etta regularly visits the grave of her deceased husband, Armando. He’s been dead over a year. There’s a man at a nearby grave. He starts a conversation with Etta. His wife is dead. He tells her how it happened. Later she tells him how her husband died.
“The Magic Barrel”
Leo Finkle is a rabbinical student, soon to be ordained. He’s informed that marriage would improve his prospects for getting a congregation. He engages the services of Salzman, a marriage broker. He calls on Leo and presents him with six prospects. Leo isn’t enthusiastic about meeting any of them. Disappointed in his options, and with some doubts about the matchmaking business, he dismisses Salzman.
Read “The Magic Barrel”
Kessler is on social security and lives alone in a cheap tenement. He would still be working but for his quarrelsome nature. He walked out on his family thirty years ago. He has no friends and doesn’t speak to his neighbors. One day an argument erupts between Kessler and the janitor, Ignace, over the way he disposes of his garbage. Ignace takes the matter to the landlord, Gruber.
Read “The Mourners”
Tommy’s life is a terrible bore. He works long hours for little profit and doesn’t care for his wife. Years ago he quit vocational school and got in with the wrong crowd. He was involved in a robbery. The family’s landlord was able to arrange a break from his bad associates. His father started arranging a marriage to Rosa and a business. Tommy went to Texas to escape the situation. When he came back to town, things picked right up where they left off.
Read “The Prison”