Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish writer who transcended his ethnic category, skillfully employs modernist fictional techniques to pose questions about human beings, God, and existence. Singer's works are written in Yiddish. His Yiddish reflects the influence of three languages, Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic, and contains frequent allusions to rabbinic and Talmudic lore. The richness of his prose and its texture, pace, and rhythm are not easy to capture in translation.
One of the outstanding characteristics of Singer's tales is his use of demoniac imagery. This motif does not represent a love of the bizarre, the occult, or the gothic, although Singer is interested in these aspects. His demons figuratively portray the evil side of human nature; moreover, Singer believed that supernatural powers—both good and evil—do exist, and he affirmed his ultimate faith in Providence. Singer is a supreme storyteller. For him, the suspense, the adventure, the age-old pleasures of narrative are paramount. He leaves explanations and interpretations to his readers and critics.
Saul Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976. His popularity is, perhaps, surprising, because his novels do not contain the usual ingredients one expects to find in best-selling fiction—suspense, heroic figures, and graphic sex and violence. In fact, his novels are difficult ones that wrestle with perplexing questions, sometimes drawing from esoteric sources such as the anthroposophy and the psychology.
What sets Bellow's novels apart from those of his major contemporaries, such as Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, and Norman Mailer, is primarily the treatment of the hero. Bellow's protagonist is a sensitive, thinking being who contends with the soul-destructive forces of modern society. Though often a victim and a spiritual alien in a materialistic world, Bellow's protagonist is nevertheless capable of dignity, sympathy, and compassion.
Finally, Bellow is one of the great wordsmiths of the American novel. His prose style varies with the nature of the protagonist and the dilemma. In each work the prose is often a startling mix of erudition and slang, of the analytically precise and the casually colloquial; yet it is also effective and always right. His work is irresistibly entertaining, containing accurate portrayals of contemporary life dramatized by dialogue of unerring naturalness.
Bernard Malamud's literary roots extend deeply into the nineteenth century narrative method. He is foremost a storyteller. At the heart of every story stands character. In fact, Malamud is devoted to the development of the individual. Like his literary forebears, especially the American writers, Malamud favors the initiation story. A typical Malamud story follows the maturation pattern: A young man who has led an unfulfilled life fraught.