God's Grace Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

God’s Grace begins directly after all living beings have been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. One person, Calvin Cohn, a Jewish paleontologist, has survived because he was deep undersea in a submersible craft. Coming to the surface, he realizes that a giant flood has covered the earth. God speaks to Cohn, telling him that he survived because of a “minuscule error” on God’s part. Calvin too will be destroyed, God tells him, but not yet.

Returning to his mother ship, the Rebekah Q, Cohn discovers a young chimpanzee. Exploring the ship further, he finds that the chimp had belonged to a scientist named Walther Bunder, who had taught it sign language. Bunder had named the chimp Gottlob, but Cohn re-names him Buz after one of Abraham’s nephews. The chimp seems to understand Cohn’s efforts to communicate, which heartens him greatly.

As the waters recede, Cohn and Buz find an island and bring what they can salvage from the ship. Cohn finds a cave and works hard to make a dwelling there. Soon he suffers severe radiation sickness and is close to unconscious for some time. During his sickness, he is cared for by a presence; food and water are brought to him regularly. Upon recovering, he discovers a large gorilla who has evidently been his caretaker. Cohn names the gorilla George.

Sometime later, Cohn makes the amazing discovery that Bunder had performed surgery on Buz that has made him capable of human speech. Delighted, Cohn immediately begins tutoring Buz in vocabulary and theology. He learns that Bunder had Christianized Buz, had given him a crucifix, and had told him of Jesus of Nazareth. Cohn, son of a cantor, wishes Buz to be Jewish. He tells him many Old Testament stories; Buz likes the...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

God's Grace Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

America. CXLVII, October 9, 1982, p. 195.

Christian Science Monitor. September 10, 1982, p. B3.

Cronin, Gloria L. “The Complex Irony of Grace: A Study of Bernard Malamud’s God’s Grace.” Studies in American Jewish Literature 5 (1986): 119-128. Explores the theological design of the novel.

Freese, Peter. “Surviving the End: Apocalypse, Evolution, and Entropy in Bernard Malamud, Kurt Vonnegut, and Thomas Pynchon.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 36 (Spring, 1995): 163-176. Finds similarities among the three writers’ use of end-time themes and the questions accompanying them.

Helterman, Jeffrey. Understanding Bernard Malamud. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1985. A good overview of Malamud, with a helpful chapter on God’s Grace that points out biblical and Shakespearean themes.

Library Journal. CVII, July, 1982, p. 1345.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 12, 1982, p. 1.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, August 29, 1982, p. 1.

The New Yorker. LVIII, November 8, 1982, p. 167.

Newsweek. C, September 6, 1982, p. 70.

Salzberg, Joel, ed. Critical Essays on Bernard Malamud. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987. An excellent collection of essays on Malamud’s various themes and techniques, along with two essays specifically on God’s Grace.

Solotaroff, Robert. Bernard Malamud: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Although God’s Grace is not specifically treated, this book contains excellent material on Malamud himself, including his thoughts about the bleakness in his fiction.

Times Literary Supplement. October 29, 1982, p. 1188.