God's Grace: A Novel
God's Grace (1982), Bernard Malamud's last novel, is a modern-day dystopian fantasy, set in a time after a thermonuclear war prompts a second flood -- a radical departure from Malamud's previous fiction.
The novel's protagonist is paleolosist Calvin Cohn, who had been attending to his work at the bottom of the ocean when the Devastation struck, and who alone survived. This rabbi's son -- a "marginal error" -- finds himself shipwrecked with an experimental chimpanzee capable of speech, to whom he gives the name Buz. Soon other creatures appear on their island-baboons, chimps, five apes, and a lone gorilla. Cohn works hard to make it possible for God to love His creation again, and his hopes increase as he encounters the unknown and the unforeseen in this strange new world.
With God's Grace, Malamud took a great risk, and it paid off. The novel's fresh and pervasive humor, narrative ingenuity, and tragic sense of the human condition make it one of Malamud's most extraordinary books.
"Is he an American Master? Of course. He not only wrote in the American language, he augmented it with fresh plasticity, he shaped our English into startling new configurations." --Cynthia Ozick
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Anyone who liked the movie "Planet of the Apes" might like this book.
It seemed to be a morality tale, a fable. It also seemed a bit anti-semitic but the author is a Jew. I guess it is only wrong if a gentile is anti-semitic.
The lead character is named Cohn. That seems to be a variation of Kohen or Cohan that everyone knows by now is the name signifying priest in Hebrew. A Kohen is a direct male descendant of the Biblical Aaron, brother of Moses. And that pretty much sums up the role of Cohn in this tale by B. Malamud. Cohn takes it upon himself to lead the chosen--in this tale, chimpanzees--toward an ideal existence.
Mankind has failed his covenant with God and, as the only human left on earth, Cohn tries to transfer the pact to chimpanzees that somehow survived. But the initiator of the original covenant was God, not man, thus Cohn's efforts have a predictable outcome.
It is an interesting (and gross) narrative. It is outside of salvation history so ends on a note of despair. Cohn gets to play God, to experience wayward followers, and the defeat of Jesus. He also gets to make the same mistake as Adam; to forget the covenant through self-deception.
This book has been described as confusing. I guess Malamud knew what he was getting at, but I didn't fathom it. It has been described as amusing, comic. I didn't find any humor. I take that back. I did think it was funny that Cohn rebuked the behavior of the male chimps, seeming to have forgotten that they were stronger and bigger than he and not bound in any way to obey him.
I read for plot. That was novel enough, like Robinson Crusoe; and shocking at times, like "Lord of the Flies".
I didn't get it; or I don't agree with it. I will probably look for more by Malamud. There is one about a wandering Jew in the wild west; didn't Gene Wilder star in a movie with that plot? Yes, it was called "The Frisco Kid". I wonder if it was based on one of Malamud's stories?
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American Science Fiction and the Cold War: Literature and Film
Limited preview - 1999