Saul Maloff Essay - Critical Essays

Maloff, Saul

Maloff, Saul 1922–

Maloff is an American editor, literary critic, and novelist. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)

There has been some speculation in psychological jargon that one must first find one's father before being able to reject him. With a new twist, to this insight—such as it is—Saul Maloff has written a novel ironically called "Happy Families." With the closest possible eye for detail and with perceptions that are sharpened to razor-edge, we are introduced to the American Family as a moribund institution. The emphasis, however, is on the father-daughter syndrome in our great society.

With a devastating irony, we are treated to a kind of epiphany—and a palimpsest too. Filled with unconscious reflections of a literary nature, we unmask layer upon layer of narration to produce an idea—and the idea is a simple one, though rather unpleasant. Truth, as Mr. Maloff indicates, is often unpleasant. And as we read on we learn—over and over again—that fathers with seventeen-year-old daughters have problems, to say nothing about the problems the seventeen-year-old daughters have with fathers…. It would seem that these young creatures are careless, insolent, flaunting, instinctual, mammary and fleshy, smoldering—and, in some cases, much more….

There is superb craftsmanship here as ideas come and go, that are fragmentary and elusive. Mr. Maloff has the ability to bring us into direct contact with the minutiae of life, its feel, and color, and smell, its nuance and humor. The characterization—especially of Mr. Kalb's boss—is superb. (p. 208)

Clara M. Siggins, in Best Sellers (copyright 1968, by the University of Scranton), August 15, 1968.

Happy Families … is actually less a novel than a long psychiatric nightmare conceived in despondency and executed in a kind of manic misery. The wish-fulfilling, therapy-begging ending is of a piece with the rest of the fantasies, oblique interior monologues, and shadowy comic encounters in the book: stuff that dreams are made of when the spirit is being torn apart on a torture rack of intolerable circumstance. But there is a not unwholesome fascination in staying with the author through his dark night of garrulous catharsis. We soon realize that Saul Maloff is not going to tell us much of a story, yet something very exciting emerges.

Kalb is the standard loser of much Midwestern or New York-based fiction since World War II. Herzog without the academic extras. Jonathan Baumbach's "man to conjure with," only in terms of a daughter instead of a son. Herbert Gold's Herbert Gold, but with one girl instead of two, and minus the acquired sophistication. To be sure, Kalb's head is full of literary references and camp (the book wouldn't be a bad cram text for an advanced degree in English or Popular Culture).

Samuel I. Bellman, "Incestuously Lusting Fathers," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1968 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), September 7, 1968, p. 46.

The principal difficulty with Saul Maloff's intelligent and entertaining new novel [Heartland] is that the ground it explores has already been rather thoroughly plowed. Its central theme—that of the vaguely intellectual New York Jew set uncomfortably down on a corn-fed provincial campus—has been examined by, among others, Bernard Malamud in A New Life and John Updike in Bech. The bizarre ritual its protagonist encounters is out of The Golden Bough and bears striking if entirely coincidental similarity to the tale spun by the whilom movie actor, Thomas Tryon, in his current best-seller, Harvest Home.

Still Maloff is a novelist of skill and wit, and there is much to recommend in Heartland….

Maloff has described Heartland as "a comic fable," and at its best the comedy is indeed good. (p. 30)

Heartland is nothing if not a "New York novel" in point of view, conscious and deliberate; for Maloff seems to recognize that New York provincialism is as ripe a subject for satire as heartland provincialism. At times, however, [his] satire is heavy-handed … [and] may not make Saul Maloff many friends in the heart of the heart of the country, but it is, on the whole, provocative and perceptive. (p. 31)

Jonathan Yardley, "Jew among the Alien Corn," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1973 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), September 29, 1973, pp. 30-1.

Starved for good humor, I was ready for what Heartland's advertisers promised—a story that would tickle and absorb. I needed a whole loaf of the stuff lost somewhere between Camelot and Operation Candor. But I wound up eating cake.

Some cake! More like crumbs, tiny bits of stuff that had to be pressed hard between thumb and forefinger and rolled together before they could be made to resemble an edible mass. Now, if Saul Maloff were a new bride who couldn't boil water, his latest novel's faults might have been easier to swallow. But he is a writer of considerable skill and experience. And Heartland is a concoction so blatantly tasteless in parts that it might've been cooked up by the folks who brought us C-rations….

Oh, there were good moments in Heartland, chiefly when Maloff prepared a smörgasbord of colorful demonstration scenes, familiar entrées from the 1960s which he molded to suit the current taste for Zionist theatre. But if the setting was colorful, the hero was all wrong. Superstars who give mass movements bounce have the talent to concoct a heady brew, but Maloff's hero, Isaiah Greene, produces a watered-down vin ordinaire. (p. 282)

Greene (and therefore Heartland) struck me as a literary gimmick that happened to coincide with the Mideast crisis and the decline of the vocal, militant segment of the women's movement: a slick, plastic robot in a Dynel wig, properly tousled to create the right effect, all done up in baggy corduroys with suede patches at the elbows just the way somebody imagined an aging New York Jewish academic ought to be….

Some day, I hope, male anxieties and prejudices won't be presented in fictional form projected as women's faults, a defensive and dishonest approach to humor which makes true satire impossible. If the book has any redeeming value, it lies with the women Maloff introduces. Such women! They supply all the action, for good or ill. But unfortunately they are only pseudo-women, cardboard mock-ups of the army of flesh and blood serfs already on their feet and marching, breaking out of the cookie-cutter stereotypes that generations of male and male-oriented writers have produced. This novel is a contribution to that movement. And that is something. (p. 283)

Bonnie Stowers, "Low Pressure at High Altitude," in The Nation (copyright 1974 by the Nation Associates, Inc.), March 2, 1974.