The Tenants by Bernard Malamud
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Basically, a book that makes you hate and distrust black people even more than you already do. It's hard to find a book written in the past (Hell, it's difficult to find now) where a black character is admirable unless he's a slave and telling Huck Honey to get back on the boat. Most black characters are seen as vicious, untrustworthy individuals (who don't talk in complete sentences), and Malamud continued with that tradition. The only book I can really think of that had a redeemable, respectable black character was The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and that character was a doctor juxtaposed with other black characters who loathed him for being so different. It was an interesting character study to say the least, and it was refreshing to read.
But I digress.
Why the four stars for this book that I clearly found offensive? Well, because it's good. The characters, though unlikable, are clear and three-dimensional, and the story is told in a meta fashion, which impresses the writer in me. The story concerns two tenants, a Jewish man and a black man (Though one only pays the rent. Guess which one), who are both writers. The black man feels he has to write about the black experience, sort of like Richard Wright. But the problem is, he isn't disciplined like the Jewish writer. The moment he receives even the slightest bit of criticism, he gets upset and does something stupid. It's infuriating to see such a bum of a character, even though he works hard at his craft. The situation is exacerbated when he does a heinous act after the Jewish character kind of oversteps his bounds with the black man's girlfriend (Though, an argument could be made that the black man was in the fault for not treating his girlfriend right in the first place).
Overall, it's a quick read and an interesting book told in a fascinating fashion. Do I like how blacks were portrayed in this book, which was published back in the 70s? No. There is not one redeemable thing about them. But as a black writer, I guess it's my job to write minority characters who are actually worthy of praise. I just won't go overboard with it. That's how you DON'T write three-dimensional characters.
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