‘The First Seven Years’ by Bernard Malamud

The First Seven Years by Bernard Malamud, 1950

The magic trick:

Telling the reader all about the main characters in the opening paragraphs, thereby freeing up the rest of the plot to show their development

What a way to close out our Bernard Malamud Week. This is an all-timer right here. I love the way Malamud lays out the situation very clearly at the start. Typical of these Magic Barrel stories, he tells the reader all about the central characters; tells us where they are in life but, more importantly, why they are where they are in life. We learn what makes them tick in the first three paragraph of the story. That does so much to free up the rest of the story. So many stories will use the plot to teach you about the characters. But here we’ve already been told about the characters, so now the plot is free to show us some crucial development moment in those characters’ lives. As a result, it feels like a complete story with a novel’s worth of character growth. It’s no mere sketch. It’s a complete circle. And that’s quite a trick on Malamud’s part.  

The selection:

… An old wish returned to haunt the shoemaker: that he had had a son instead of a daughter, but this blew away in the snow, for Feld, if anything, was a practical man. Yet he could not help but contrast the diligence of the boy, who a peddler’s son, with Miriam’s unconcern for an education. True, she was always with a book in her hand, yet when the opportunity arose for a college education, she had said no, she would rather find a job. He had begged her to go, pointing out how many fathers could not afford to send their children to college, but she said she wanted to be independent.

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