The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
This is the mid-1900’s, Jewish version of the Russian novel, where nothing really happens and everyone is depressed. Morris and Ida have worked all their lives to build a grocery business, but it is failing miserably. Suddenly, an Italian wanderer has made his way to the store and offers his help with running the store. The daughter of the grocers, Helen, catches the eye of this non-Jewish wanderer and the plot thickens.
The writing is very authentic and gritty, in spite of there being almost too much detail in the everyday. Because of the detail, though, the book does have a sort of an existential feel to it. The mundane, repetitive life of an ordinary man who is struggling to be an individual and striving for meaning and just about accomplishing the basic necessity of working to make a living so that he can work. The yearning for doing something “big” and never getting around to it. There is that sense from almost every character in the story. This gives it a literary context, but it also makes the story overwhelmingly gloomy.
I think this book would be valuable in a literature class where it could be dissected for its merits; meanwhile, as a reading experience for an individual, it was devoid of humor and of hope and hard to get through.