A rethinking of Bernard Malamud’s Rembrandt’s Hat (1973), a collection of ten of Malamud’s least obviously “Jewish” stories, reminds us not only of the changing literary zeitgeist but also the turmoil of Malamud’s life in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Although Jews people these stories, Jewishness is not a central issue of the collection. Rather, Jewishness and the nature of contemporary life itself are marginal, questionable, ambiguous; the stories explore the themes of communication and faith, the frustrated artist, and especially the responsibility of being human—what it means to be a mentsch—all issues with which Malamud personally wrestled. Malamud weaves that bundle of themes—communication, faith, frustrated artist, mentschlekeit—into the stories, which complement and comment upon one another, carrying on a thematic dialogue among themselves. Each pair of stories, back-to-back, echoes one another’s themes and concerns. Thus the ten stories in the book constitute five pairs of stories held in tension with one another, and these late stories place Malamud as a writer whose work is a transition from the period of emergence to the period of “getting away” in Jewish American literature.

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