Books: Realistic Fabulist

IDIOTS FIRST by Bernard Malamud. 212 pages. Farrar, Straus. $4.50.

Bernard Malamud is a poet of the victim. Not the tragic or the hopeless victim, but the absurd victim. In his stories, fate is clearly placable, but his heroes never get the hang of it. They make fools of themselves instead, and, by robbing themselves of dignity, they become somehow more poignantly human.

Malamud's own case is less clear. Ever since The Assistant and his collection of stories The Magic Barrel, which won the National Book Award in 1959, Malamud has been recognized as a unique voice in U.S. literature. He catches his...

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