Seeking Bernard Malamud on His 100th Birthday

A Young Novelist Explores the Anxieties of Influence

Way Out West: Author Boris Fishman found southeastern Wyoming to be a wonderfully humbling place.
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Way Out West: Author Boris Fishman found southeastern Wyoming to be a wonderfully humbling place.

By Boris Fishman

Published April 25, 2014, issue of May 02, 2014.
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It’s very hard to persuade a friend watching the clock in an office in Midtown Manhattan that at your artist colony in southeastern Wyoming, you — who are eating food made by a country-club chef, sleeping in a free bed, writing in a handsome studio, and taking walks in a landscape of religious beauty — have it the rougher.

You are 2,000 miles from home, and almost as many — or so it feels — from the nearest human settlement, not that very many kindred spirits inhabit its churches and bars. You must take those meals — which tend toward franks and beans — three times a day with seven people whom you’ve never met and might never want to again. Your bed anchors a room more or less the size of the bed. And your writing studio is outfitted with enough taxidermy that it’s a small wonder the night — the jet-black, fogged-breath, star-exploded night — doesn’t shriek with the cries of its former inhabitants.

No, it’s just you, working on the 12th draft of your first novel, about the person you were 10 years before, only this version of you also forges Holocaust-restitution claims for old Russian Jews in south Brooklyn.

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Your family doesn’t understand why you have to write a novel that reflects so poorly on people like them — and also them, because, rather grandly, they’re certain readers will take the family in the novel for yours. (Never mind that what you imagined has “come true” — around Draft 4, a year after you started, the FBI and district attorney’s office exposed a massive Holocaust restitution claim fraud scheme in south Brooklyn. ) A small army of literary agents has responded to the novel with roughly your family’s level of enthusiasm, though you’ve found one at last, who roots for this draft from afar. He is not alone. Your life is filled with people who have watched, with a mix of horror and empathy, as you’ve banged your head against this brick wall for three years.

You wish you could stop smoking, but can’t. You wonder if that rawness on the left side of your throat is cancer; hopefully not. It’s been over a year since you were broken up with — she has gone on not only to a new man, but also with him to a new home — but you can’t quite get her out of your mind, nor fall in love with another. There are only two things that don’t feel terrible: reading and writing. It’s a small miracle, considering the latter has been the source of so much misery.


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