So who could say that Bernard Malamud didn't write well ? Not me. He writes very well indeed. These 13 stories, mainly about first-generation Jewish immigrants in America, but also about visitors to Italy from America, capture so much of life in a society where one is an outsider---that feeling of "being here but not here", or of living in a country, but not belonging. The wasted ex-coffee salesman, the harassed landlord, the loner rabbinical student, they all seem to pulsate with failure, with uncertainty, and fatal mistakes. Ah, this is a book about life all right, but it's a book in which the vision is almost tunnel vision. Every single story, without exception, deals with people who cannot rise to their own imaginations of themselves. They meet frustration, failure, death or disappointment, they are deflected from any purpose they might have once had. They are melancholy shades of fruitless endeavor. Does even one reach his ambition ? (They are all male.) No, the student doesn't find a house in Rome, the would-be art critic abandons his research, the would-be lover lies about his Jewish origins and loses the beautiful girl, the buyer on credit never pays back, the so-called reader never reads, the shoemaker allows his daughter to marry an unsuitable man. Only once, after humiliating an angel to tears, does an old man admit his mistake and save his wife from death, and this occurs in the only fantasy among the thirteen. Most of the characters lose, their labors come to naught, they grow wiser, but sadder. I would assume that Malamud himself felt an outsider everywhere, comfortable nowhere. If that is not true, his dreams must have been filled with worry, because this is a most melancholy collection. Does anyone smile ? Does anyone laugh ? Does anyone dash down the street radiant with love ? No. Life is full of personal shortcomings, a bald spot, a stubborn rejection of family, an inability to swim or make money. Frustration and lies run rampant--people certainly do shoot themselves in the foot again and again. Life is a tragedy, life always ends in disappointment-these are truths told in half the literature of the world, but there is more to our humble existence than that. Even when Malamud writes a humorous story, it is filled with underlying doubt in human nature, concentrating on the tendency of people to try to be what they are not. If you want thirteen superb stories to illustrate that sad point of view, here they are. If you think life is more of a mixed bag, then perhaps this book will only depress you.