(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Malone, an old man, is sitting in a hospital bed and is writing. He hears the sounds of other men coming and going. He then recalls having been brought to the hospital in an ambulance. He is bedridden, almost incapable of movement. His memory is unreliable; he does not know whether he is recalling memories or inventing them. Then, abruptly, he begins to write a story about a man named Saposcat. “I wonder if I am not talking yet again about myself,” he muses. A page later, however, Malone notes, “Nothing is less like me than this patient, reasonable child.”

A family, the Lamberts, have befriended Saposcat, who lives on a farm. Saposcat, known by the nickname of Sapo, helps Mr. Lambert bury a mule. Incest, according to Malone, is in the air in the Lambert home. The Lambert children, a girl and a boy, share a bedroom and masturbate in each other’s presence.

Malone drops his pencil, and it takes him forty-eight hours to recover it. He says he has spent two unforgettable days of which nothing will ever be known. The pencil is described at some length. It is getting shorter all the time and soon will vanish from wear and tear. Malone is not worried, for he remembers that somewhere in his bed he has another pencil, scarcely used.

Encountering again the protagonist of his story, Malone changes the name from Saposcat to Macmann. Macmann, caught in a rainstorm, decides to lie flat on the ground, so that at least some portion of himself will stay dry. As the rain continues with unabated violence, Macmann rolls over and over, until he begins to dream of becoming a cylinder and never having to walk upright again.

Malone then interrupts himself to begin an inventory of his possessions. He speaks of the pleasure he used to take in putting his hands deep into his pockets and fingering the “hard shapely” objects that were there and how he loved to fall asleep holding a stone, a horse chestnut, or a cone in his hand.

He interrupts himself once more—or is interrupted by memory—with the thought of Macmann, and Malone says that it looks like he will never finish anything “except perhaps breathing.” Malone wonders whether he has died already. No doubt feeling that they...

(The entire section is 911 words.)