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But it is clear that Ms. Nunez’s affection for the mother outlasted her relationship with the son. And Mr. Cantor manages to conflate his relationship to his father figure Malamud afflicted by a stroke with his actual father dying of cancer in a very moving fashion which manages to honor both men and reflect credit on himself.

At their best, and there are many fine ones in this volume, what essays like this can do is just that: increase our understanding of both lens and subject in these snapshots of writers who mattered to each other - and whom they manage to make matter to us as well.

Martin Rubin is a writer and critic in Pasadena, Calif.