With a new introduction by Thomas Mallon "Dubin's Lives" (1979) is a compassionate and wry commedia, a book praised by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in "The New York Times" as Malamud's "best novel since "The Assistant," Possibly, it is the best he has written of all." Its protagonist is one of Malamud's finest characters; prize-winning biographer William Dubin, who learns from lives, or thinks he does: those he writes, those he shares, the life he lives. Now in his later middle age, he seeks his own secret self, and the obsession of biography is supplanted by the obsession of love--love for a woman half is age, who has sought an understanding of her life through his books. "Dubin's Lives" is a rich, subtle book, as well as a moving tale of love and marriage.
Dubin believes he has gotten over Fanny but when she shows up again and describes her life, he is pulled in once again. Fanny becomes his mistress, and William is ecstatic, his writing improves as well as his marriage but eventually the demands of his career, a wife and a mistress cause severe stress. William fantasizes different potential scenarios: Fanny abandons him, life improves, or he divorces Kitty, marries Fanny and they have children. But William realizes he loves both his life with Kitty and their children, and his life with Fanny.
Is William trying to live Lawrence's life? Is he compensating for his childhood? All possibilities. I personally have difficulty reading about infidelity but the depth of writing and the beautiful descriptions kept me going.
William Dubin, the main protagonist in Malamud's novel Dubin's Lives is a writer, particularly a biographer. The largest part of the novel is about Dubin's life, especially his sexual escapades with Fanny Bick, who made her first advances when she came to his home as a house-cleaner. Throughout the novel there is no doubt that Dubin and his wife Kitty are in a long, happy and loving marriage, and Dubin often struggles with guilt about his sexual affair with Fanny. Although he is hiding his affair and his sexual adventures with Fanny, the game is brought home to him, so to speak, as Fanny seems intend on replacing Kitty. From a visit to Venice, to visiting her in New York, later on Fanny starts visiting Dubin at home, at first having sex with him in his studio in the garden and later in the home, in his the bedroom. Dubin's relation with Fanny has all the characteristics of a relation sprung up around a mid-life crisis, from early wonder and joy that such a young women would show so much interest in a man of his age, to a completely promiscuous and illicit extra-martital affair right under his wife's nose. Dubin's impotence while with his wife, and his attempts to hide his affair with Fanny add a great deal to the fun of the book.
Throughout the book, Dubin is working on a biography of D.H. Lawrence, at times wondering whether he has "given up life to write lives." As he is stuck in his biography about Lawrence, he likewise seems to have got stuck in his life. In Lawrence he reads: "We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh and part of the living incarnate cosmos." (p.338) Besides working on Lawrence, Dubin finds time to read Saint Augustine. The novel begins with two quotations: What demon possessed me that I behaved so well? from Thoreau, about whom Dubin has written a biography, and Give me continence and chastity, but not yet. by Saint Augustine. While worried whether his adulterous affair may hurt his wife, Dubin feels that he needs more in life, and that Fanny can give him that.
Du bist Dubin (p.358). Although the root of confusion about the self lies in Dubin's name, Ich bin, Du bist Dubin's concludes that he knows who he is, at least "well enough the take the next necessary step." (ibid), n.l. to act his age. The final part of the book is revealing, as the basic theme of the book is expanded to the other characters in the book. The existentialist dilemma of how to live your life, create and use the freedom to be alive, and shape your life to it's ultimate fullfilment is worked out, showing that each and everyone has to deal with these questions, and that there is an infinite variety of possibilities.