1967 -- A New Life

In a 1963 letter to his friend Rosemarie Beck, written while he was still planning his novel, Malamud said that he had originally wanted to do a book about Sacco and Vanzetti but had decided he could not match the power of the true story:

…so I settled for a combination of a blood ritual incident in pre-Soviet Russia, plus something like the Dreyfus incident. A man is put in prison, and there he must suffer out his existence with what he has and, in a sense, conceive himself again. It is, as you see, my old subject matter.

In a letter written at about the same time to his brother, Malamud confessed that his setting, pre-WWI Russia, was giving him problems: “You can imagine it takes a lot of nerve to write about a place as though one knew it. The result is that I often approach the writing with a kind of dread.” Biographer Philip Davis (Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life, 2007) tells us how Malamud got the title for his story of Yakov Bok, handyman:

When he was writing A New Life [his 1961 novel] in Oregon, Malamud had sometimes taken a room in the Frontier Hotel, on Second Street, Corvallis, where he could write all day undisturbed. There from a second-floor window he could see the sign of the local hardware shop of “Jim the Fixer.” It [his new novel] was to be the story not of some big-time operator who could fix everything, but an odd-job man who could mend or affect little.

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