Study Guide

The Natural Writing Style

By Bernard Malamud

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Writing Style

Poetic and Dreamlike; Gritty and Realistic

Malamud shows off his range in this novel. You've got poetic, dreamy descriptive sentences that go on and on:

Fallen on one knee he groped for the bullet, sickened as it moved, and fell over as the forest flew upward, and she, making muted noises of triumph and despair, danced on her toes around the stricken hero. (1.348)

Tonight was a high, free evening, still green and gold above the white fortress of buildings on Michigan Avenue, yet fading over the lake, from violet to the first blue of night. (7.2)

And these are some of the shorter examples. This kind of language turns up when the author is describing a setting, and really gets going when he's telling us about someone's internal experiences like thoughts and dreams. But when it comes to writing dialogue, the sentences are short and clipped.

"Want to see the Village?" Red said.

"What's in it?"

Red picked his teeth. "Beats me. Whatever they got I can't find it. How about a picture." (2.261-2.263)


"S'matter, Gus?" Mercy said.

"Memo lost two bits." His voice was sugar soft. "Find it yet?" he said to the waiter.

"Not yet sir." He got up. "No, sir."

"Forget it." Sands flicked a deft fiver into the man's loose fist. (4.151-4.154)

Some of these changes in writing style can be pretty jarring, but maybe they're meant to. You could think of them as reflecting the two very different worlds that the novel lives in: there's the dream world of heroes and nightmares, and the more real world of cynical schemers. 

There's a lot of baseball lingo in the novel also:

Sam whacked the leather with his fist. "Come on, kiddo, wham it down his whammy."

The Whammer out of the corner of his mouth told the drunk to keep his mouth shut.

"Burn it across his button." (1.189-1.191)

The Knights took their three in Boston and the next day won a twi-night double-header in Ebbets Field, making it seventeen straight wins […] and after this twin bill with Brooklyn, were within two of the Phils, who had been nip and tucking it all season with the Cards and Dodgers. (8.13)

Some critics felt that Malamud didn't really feel at home in this jargon. What do you think—does it ring true?

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