The Fixer is perhaps Malamud’s finest novel. A best seller and Literary Guild selection, it won for him both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for fiction. In addition, it was cited for excellence by the American Library Association and was adapted into a film. Malamud continues his theme of the quest for self-definition.
The Fixer, however, replaces the more modern settings of his earlier novels with the historical backdrop of early twentieth century Russia. The novel’s plot is based on an incident that occurred in 1911 in Kiev, the setting for most of the book. The work is by no means a slavish reportage of actual events; rather, Malamud uses the situation of Mendel Beiliss, a Kiev worker who was imprisoned for the ritual murder of a Christian boy, as the basis for his fictional account of the struggles of his hero, Yakov Bok.
Underlying the plot of The Fixer is Malamud’s familiar attempt to define true freedom in an insensitive, seemingly irrational world. Yakov Bok, a poor fixer (or handyman), grows disenchanted with his humble life in a run-down village. An orphan who was taught his trade in an orphanage and apprenticed at age ten, Bok has served in the Russian army and taught himself some history, geography, science, and arithmetic in addition to learning the Russian language on his own. Considering himself a freethinker, he feels trapped in his situation (even his childless wife has deserted him) and longs for the new opportunities that life in the city might afford. He sells all that he owns except his tools and a few books, then journeys to what he believes will be freedom in Kiev.
Malamud uses Bok’s journey to reveal the character’s basic humanity. For all his shortcomings, Bok is a good man, and it is his spirit of giving that constantly embroils him in trouble. Like Roy Hobbs, Frank Alpine, and S. Levin, Bok is his own worst enemy. At times his troubles are comical; feeling sorry for an old woman walking on the road to Kiev, he offers her a ride in his run-down cart only to have the cart break down under their weight.
At other times, however, his humanity leads him into more devastating circumstances. His false imprisonment for the ritual murder of a Christian boy is a direct result of his rescuing the anti-Semite Nikolai...
(The entire section is 955 words.)