Cinema: Two-Thirds of Greatness

To Aristotle, tragedy's effect was tripartite; it moved from pity to terror to catharsis. By those tenets, as valid as they are venerable, Bernard Malamud's Pulitzer Prize novel The Fixer misses greatness by a third. It has the first two requisites, but it omits any purge of the emotions. Malamud brings his hero, Yakov Bok, to the brink of destruction—or salvation—and freezes the action. There, in Auden's phrase, "the seas of pity lie, locked and frozen in each eye." By definition, the film of The Fixer can aspire to be only two-thirds of a...

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