The Assistant Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Assistant

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud tells the story of Frank Alpine and Morris Bober, an Italian drifter and a Jewish shop owner who, after Morris offers Frank a job, work together to keep the tiny store from collapsing due to encroaching competition in the neighborhood.
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At the beginning of the book the author describes Morris's daily routine. He runs a little dingy shop in Brooklyn that hasn't seen much success, and suffers from clinical ailments related to stress and old age (Morris is sixty). His one life's allowance is a nap he takes every day, during the afternoon. He can barely support his wife Helen and his daughter, Ida, which is especially problematic in Ida's case, being that she wishes to attend university. Morris attempts to shield her from the reality of their situation, but in reality he is terrified he won't be able to afford to send her to school. Malamud depicts Morris as a good man that just can't seem to get a break. He allows all sorts of concessions on behalf of his customers. Some open credit lines, for instance, that they fail to repay. His generosity brings him pain.

Things take a turn for the worst when Morris is robbed one night near closing time. One of the men--who we'll meet again later--hits him in the head with his pistol, claiming his cash drawer is far too empty for a day's work and accusing him of hiding money. This leads to Morris taking in an overview of his life and deeming it a series of failures.

Soon after the robbery, however, Frank comes into the shop. Though Morris doesn't know it, Frank was one of the men who robbed the store the previous night. Not the one who hit him, however. Morris, taking pity on the young drifter eventually gives him a job, seeing that he's been surviving on next to nothing on the streets. Ida isn't happy about the news, especially since things are so bad already. But soon enough, when the injury Morris sustained in the robbery begins to open back up again and bleed, Frank takes over the store and runs it in the boss's stead.

To the family's surprise, the business actually picks up with Frank at the helm. Ida is still suspicious of the man, distrusting him not only because of he's not Jewish, but because she's afraid he'll steal from them. She is also wary of the way he looks at their daughter, Helen. And not without good reason. Frank is caught spying on Helen while she is nude in the bathroom. After that, however, Helen actually begins to fall for Frank. She rebukes him at first, but is interested in making him into an honest man.

At first, Frank seems ready to go straight, and empties his wallet of all the money he's stolen from the register since he started working for Morris. He takes one dollar back, however, so that when he meets Helen in the park later that night, the two can take a taxi home. When he does, however, this Morris catches him in the act and banishes him from the store.

Frank goes to meet Helen in the park anyway with the aim of expressing his love. She arrives first, however, and is ambushed by Ward Minoque, the rough man that robbed the store with Frank in the beginning of the book. He tries to rape Helen and is only saved by Frank showing up to disrupt the situation last minute. Directly afterwards, however, after a spat between Frank and Ward, Frank ends up raping Helen himself, overcome with psychotic desire.

Soon afterwards, it is revealed that the Bober's grocery wasn't doing well because of Frank, but because the neighborhood competitor, a delicatessen, had fallen ill. When that delicatessen ends up shutting down in turn, a bigger, newer store opens in its place, leading Morris to believe he'll soon be bankrupt. Morris goes upstairs for his nap and leaves the gas on his bedroom heater turns on without lighting it. He says he did so accidentally, but the narrative insinuates he was contemplating suicide. He is saved from his fate only when Franks shows up at the last minute. He then resumes control of the store, attempting to rectify the wrongs he has committed.

In the final pages of the book, Frank confesses to Morris that he was one of the men that robbed his store. After exiling Frank again, Morris dies of pneumonia after shoveling spring snow. At the funeral, Frank falls into Morris's grave and reemerges a changed man. He then takes over the store and works at an all-night coffee shop to keep the income flowing. He confesses his love for Helen and offers to pay for her education. He then has himself circumcised and at the end of the novel, symbolically, at least, becomes a Jew.
Best part of story, including ending: I think it's a story of redemption. And I love stories of redemption.

Best scene in story: I think the entire scene with Frank and Helen in the park is harrowing and telling. It shows that Frank is truly a damaged person, and is need of healing.

Opinion about the main character: I think Martin Bober's biggest fault is that he sees the world as an overly woeful place, and almost seems to embrace his sad fate.

The review of this Book prepared by Samuel Sattin a Level 3 Eurasian Jay scholar

Morris Bober is a poor Jewish grocery store owner living in New York City following the end of World War Two. He, his wife Ida, and his daughter Helen struggle to make ends meet at the store. In an attempt to stay afloat financially, Morris rents out an upstairs room of his store to Frank Alpine.
Alpine is around Helen's age and Morris is nervous providing him with a room, but decides to let him stay. While Morris is struggling in a money-minded profession, he is also concerned with the welfare of his daughter.

The review of this Book prepared by Amanda Smart

Chapter Analysis of The Assistant

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Plot & Themes

Tone of book?    -   depressed Time/era of story    -   1930's-1950's Crime & Police story    -   Yes Story of    -   criminal becomes sensitive Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   small businessman Age:    -   40's-50's    -   60's-90's Ethnicity/Nationality    -   Jewish


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   1 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast City?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Sex in book?    -   Yes Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Bernard Malamud Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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