Tag: ambition

Malamud, “The Literary Life of Laban Goldman” (1943)

bernard malamud literary life of laban goldman

Laban Goldman is kin to Chekhov’s Mitia Kouldarov in “Joy,” but without youth’s excuse. He’s a middle-aged man married 27 years to Emma, “a small woman, heavily built,” with a daughter, Sylvia, married and raising two children elsewhere. Goldman is self-delusional: he writes letters to the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Times and thinks he’s on his way to becoming a literary star, or was, but for his wife. He’s just had a letter printed in the Eagle that morning. He uses “big words,” says things like “It’s a sociological subject of import” when he speaks to his daughter on the phone and has only contempt for his wife. “Twenty-seven years I have been married to you in a life which I got nothing from it,” he tells her. He attends night school, where he’s infatuated with a Miss Moscowitz, “a tall, thin woman in her early thirties.” His English class is discussing Romeo and Juliet. He “squirmed uncomfortably in his seat as the period grew shorter. He knew that he would feel miserable if he had not raised his letter…” But he finds a way, though his letter is about divorce. He contrives a way to squish the Capulet-Montague clash through his letter: “The result of this incongruence is very frequently tragedy or, nowadays, divorce.” It’s actually quite a funny line. “On this subject I would like to quote you some words of mine…” (Laban is Arabic for yogurt, and a reference to Libnah in Numbers, but not seemingly meaningful here.)

Afterward Goldman and Moscowitz go out for coffee and are exchanging verbally masturbatory flatteries when Moscowitz notices a woman rushing their way, with another woman trying to hold her back. “Mr. Goldman,” she said in a tight voice, “your wife is coming.” The scene reminds me of the scene where Mr. Zipsky in Woody Allen’s Radio Days has a nervous breakdown and runs amok in the neighborhood. Not fair to Emma of course, but the way Malamud describes her approach is cleaverly evocative. And so: esclandre. Miss Moscowitz quickly exits. Goldman is indifferent to his wife. His letter that morning erases all depression, leaving him with his final delusion: “Ah,” he sighed, as he walked along, “with my experience, what a book I could really write!”

Assembly, November 1943

Hemingway, “The Capital of the World” (1936)

hemingway

Originally titled more directly, “The Horns of the Bull.” A waiter named Paco wants to know what it’s like to face a bull. A man indulges him by putting knives for horns at the foot of a chair and charging him. Paco is gored and dies. He had been full of illusions. “He had not had time in his life to lose any of them.” An early-gory Hemingway indulgence in the pseudo-romance of bullfighting, otherwise known as the torture and killing of animals for public enjoyment after the age of gladiatorial murder of human beings in big arenas made that less explicitly but no less enthusiastically accessible (our arenas now as ever are war theaters). There’s a hint of Hemingway’s pretension about both Madrid and bullfighting in his reworked title, in a story that starts with superbly deceptive humor and quickly moves into Paco pathos:

Hemingway: “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” (1936)

Really? (During a safari in Africa in 1934. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Really? (During a safari in Africa in 1934. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum)

Man and woman on safari. Man acts cowardly when first rushed by a lion. Woman is embarrassed, ashamed. So is he. She sleeps with the safari man. He regains his courage, kills a bull, then gets ready to kill a lion rushing him, but she shoots from the car–and hits him in the head, killing him. His happiness was those few hours of feeling courageous. It may be one of his most famous stories, but in retrospect the fame should’ve dimmed. The story is schematic, solipsistic, a tinge misogynistic.


From Wikipedia: In “The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story,” author and literary critic Frank O’Connor, though generally an admirer of Hemingway, gives one of the most colorful and uncharitable summations of “The Short Happy Life”: “Francis runs away from a lion, which is what most sensible men would do if faced by a lion, and his wife promptly cuckolds him with the English manager of their big-game hunting expedition. As we all know, good wives admire nothing in a husband except his capacity to deal with lions, so we can sympathize with the poor woman in her trouble. But next day Macomber, faced with a buffalo, suddenly becomes a man of superb courage, and his wife, recognizing that[…] for the future she must be a virtuous wife, blows his head off. […] To say that the psychology of this story is childish would be to waste good words. As farce it ranks with Ten Nights in a Bar Room or any other Victorian morality you can think of. Clearly, it is the working out of a personal problem that for the vast majority of men and women has no validity whatever.”

Cosmopolitan, September 1936