Edward Lewis Wallant’s astonishing comic tour de force is a neglected masterpiece of 1960s America. It was published posthumously.
Norman Moonbloom is a loser, a drop-out who can’t even make it as a deadbeat. His brother, a slumlord, hires him to collect rent in the buildings he owns in Manhattan. Making his rounds from apartment to apartment, Moonbloom confronts a wildly varied assortment of brilliantly described urban characters, among them a gay jazz musician with a sideline as a gigolo, a Holocaust survivor, and a brilliant young black writer modeled on James Baldwin. Moonbloom hears their cries of outrage and abuse; he learns about their secret sorrows and desires. And as he grows familiar with their stories, he finds that he is drawn, in spite of his best judgment, into a desperate attempt to improve their lives.
New York Review of Books, 2003 (1963)