We have come to the reluctant conclusion, after a number of readings and a great deal of discussion, that we are not prepared to publish Bernard Malamud’s THE ASSISTANT. There is much that is excellent in this new novel of his, but on the whole we find it more unsatisfying than satisfying; we believe it would not be a step upward from THE NATURAL.
I realize this decision may well mean that we shall lose Malamud, and this I regret, for many of us here were and still are enchanted with this first novel. May I say, then, that if THE ASSISTANT is not placed with some other publisher, we should be happy to have a chance at his next novel. Believe me, I am sorry about this one.
—Above is the rejection letter, in full, that Harcourt VP John H. McCallum sent to Malamud’s agent, Diarmuid Russell, in May of 1956. Bob Giroux, who had recently left Harcourt after they wouldn’t let him acquire The Catcher in the Rye, bought The Assistant and Farrar, Straus and Giroux published it in 1957. Twenty years later it had sold 1.2 million copies. (See Philip Davis’s extraordinary biography.)