‘Notes From A Lady At A Dinner Party’ by Bernard Malamud

Notes From A Lady At A DinnerParty by Bernard Malamud, 1973

The magic trick:

Using one scenario to explore at least two very separate ideas

We start a week of Bernard Malamud stories. Malamud’s work is diverse to say the least. Everything from Old World fables to baseball.

Today’s feature, “Notes From A Lady At A Dinner Party,” is diverse in its ideas and tone – just within itself. It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s stressful. It also accomplishes that age-old short story goal: being about two things at the same time.

There is the question of the would-be rendezvous between Adler and Karla, of course. But there is also the less obvious – and more interesting, I think – question of the student usurping the teacher. This scenario entangles both ideas, leaving the reader with multiple ideas to think about. And that’s quite a trick on Malamud’s part. 

The selection:

The professor, a crisp tall man with a clipped grayish beard, faintly red, and thick gray sideburns, who wore a green blazer with an orange shirt and white bow tie, was lavish in his praise of Adler’s recent work, some slides of which the architect had sent him; and Max once more expressed gratitude for the interest Harris continued to show. He had always been a kind man and influential teacher.

“What are you into now?” Harris asked. After two brandies he had gone to Scotch-and-soda. His large face was flushed and he wiped his watery eyes with a pressed handkerchief. Adler had noticed how often he glanced up at the dining-room door in anticipation of his wife’s reappearance.

“The same project you saw in the transparencies,” Adler said. “How about you?”

“Renovating some slum units for a private low-income housing group. There’s very little money in it. It’s more or less pro bono.”

“I ought to be doing more of that myself.”

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