Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Natural (Bernard Malamud)

The Natural by Bernard Malamud is one of those "literary sports novels". Hooray! I never read sports books (except for this time in my childhood where I read a bunch of Dan Gutman's Baseball Card Adventures), but the promise of this one having literary quality enticed me.

The "natural" of the title is Roy Hobbs, a 34-year-old ballplayer who joins the (fictional) professional team the New York Knights. He's insanely talented, and the novel details his amazing season where he brings the Knights out of last place, along with meditations on love and guilt and "doing the right thing".

The edition that I read had a quotation from Time's review of the book, that being "[a] preposterously readable story about life", and I wholeheartedly agree. I would find myself doing the "just one more page" nonsense over and over and over. One of the reasons I hate sports books is how boring the scenes in which the sport is being played is written (when J.K. Rowling announced that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows would have no Quidditch scenes, I must say I was happy about it). It's way more fun to watch someone hit a ball than it is to read about it, but Malamud did a great job. I found the baseball scenes engaging and interesting.

If the aforementioned literary thinking about our actions and love isn't enough, it might help to do some research on the Fisher King, the knight Perceval and the Holy Grail. There are (intentionally) strong parallels between the stories, but I felt like it didn't do much to alter my perception of the story. One of my complaints about the novel was that Roy Hobbs is a frustrating main character, but his character flaws are important in the understanding of the nature of a tragic hero.

Overall a good book, both literarily and in its sportswriting, with some occasional flab in the form of flashbacks and inner monologues that are perhaps intended to help us understand Roy's personality but often left me confused about their inclusion (including a scene involving his mother, a cat and a bathtub toward the end of the novel).

My rating: 3.5/5
The Natural on Goodreads
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