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The Natural

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The classical novel (and basis for the acclaimed film) now in a new edition

Introduction by Kevin Baker

The Natural, Bernard Malamud's first novel, published in 1952, is also the first—and some would say still the best—novel ever written about baseball. In it Malamud, usually appreciated for his unerring portrayals of postwar Jewish life, took on very different material—the story of a superbly gifted "natural" at play in the fields of the old daylight baseball era—and invested it with the hardscrabble poetry, at once grand and altogether believable, that runs through all his best work. Four decades later, Alfred Kazin's comment still holds true: "Malamud has done something which—now that he has done it!—looks as if we have been waiting for it all our lives. He has really raised the whole passion and craziness and fanaticism of baseball as a popular spectacle to its ordained place in mythology."

231 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1952

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About the author

Bernard Malamud

137 books431 followers
Bernard Malamud was an author of novels and short stories. Along with Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, he was one of the great American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel, The Natural, was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. His 1966 novel The Fixer, about antisemitism in Tsarist Russia, won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

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5 stars
2,379 (20%)
4 stars
4,195 (36%)
3 stars
3,345 (29%)
2 stars
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1 star
384 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 958 reviews
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
June 19, 2016
As baseball season heats up, I find myself gravitating toward baseball related books in order to enhance my love for the game when I am not listening to or watching a game. Today I read Bernard Malamud's The Natural, which I rate 3.6 stars.
I have seen the movie version of this book in which Robert Redford's character hits a game winning homer to clinch the pennant, shattering lights, creating his own fireworks, with memorable music in the background. The written version, unfortunately, is not as upbeat, and has a dark undertone to it. It begins the same as the movie as young Roy Hobbs is traveling to Chicago with his scout and mentor Sam Simpson to have a tryout with the Cubs. En route their train stops at a county fair and major league star The Whammer, resembling Babe Ruth, happens to be on the same train. A newspaperman challenges the two to a baseball duel, and Hobbs strikes out the Whammer on three pitches. A legend is born. Yet, in Chicago, a disturbed woman obsessed with striking down star athletes guns down Hobbs in her hotel room, and he disappears from organized baseball.
Fast forward fifteen years, and Hobbs resurfaces as a thirty five year rookie on the New York Knights, albeit with a mysterious past that he wishes to keep secret. The book follows the same trajectory as the movie in that Bump Bailey is killed running into a wall, and Hobbs takes his place in the middle of the lineup. Immediately he starts hitting, and two women take notice: Memo, niece of Knights long suffering manager Pop Fisher and Iris, a black haired young grandmother in Chicago. The rest of the book includes Hobbs' internal battle as to which life course to follow and which woman he would rather be with, as much as his quest to give Pop Fisher the pennant and allow both men to end their careers on a positive note.
Whereas the movie ended on the positive note and neatly tied up loose ends, the book's final scenes are dark and paint a picture of a flawed, fallen hero. We are left wondering if Roy chooses Iris or if he goes back to the shadows from whence he came never to play ball again. For those expecting the fireworks, they will be disappointed. I was left with a slightly bitter feel when I finished this classic. I rated it as high as I did because it does contain some fun baseball scenes as well as Malamud's prolific prose. I would still recommend this as a book that baseball fans should read in their lifetimes, yet it is one of those rare occasions where the movie is better than the book. A perfect read for baseball season, 3.6 stars.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
January 21, 2020
A reader who begins The Natural by Bernard Malamud after having enjoyed the wonderful 1984 film starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close will be disappointed.

Like many books and films based upon the book, the two media are vastly different. This relationship reminds me of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? 3 and Bladerunner, two similar stories but essentially different and made so by the necessary distinctions of the enabling forum. Both are fine works, just very different.

First of all, Malamud’s vision is far darker than the Barry Levinson film and the book’s Roy Hobbs is not at all the same character as the one Redford portrays. Malamud’s Hobbs is the more human of the two, the cinematic version taking the noble, more palatable, almost fable like, but simpler and dimensionally pure but tragic hero. The Roy Hobbs from the book is more complex, as is the book itself.

The reader should not look for easy and inspiring Hollywood cliché’s, but the book is excellent in its own way. The author has created a mood, a dramatic tension that reminds me of Jack London’s short story “A Piece of Steak.”

Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews181 followers
May 2, 2021

This was an interesting book. Roy Hobbs, the 35-year-old rookie, was a complex character. At age 19, he was on his way to a Major League tryout when tragedy struck. His life was diverted onto a different trajectory and his baseball career halted for 16 years. Roy Hobbs was a likable guy tormented by his own demons and I wanted him to be the hero. But sometimes I thought Roy was self-destructive as a result of his past.

I think Roy's past and unknown 16-year-period became a barrier for him. His interpersonal relationships (with teammates) and intimate relationships (with the two love interests) all derailed because of his surface-level choices and interactions. Overall Roy had a guarded, cold, and stoic personality. He ends up blinded by his pursuit to be the best only to walk away from the game a nobody. The book ends on a somber tone without redemption.

Overall I enjoyed it. The film differs greatly from the book (as to be expected). The film had a cheerful, positive, and even magical element to it. The book, however, was darker with a wide spectrum of emotions. I would recommend the book if you enjoyed the film but expect lots of differences. Thanks!
Profile Image for Fabian.
956 reviews1,623 followers
August 14, 2018
Important book on baseball, rife with fun clichés (essential to our nation nonetheless...?). A cool view from the top of that profession, with social drama going by at a largely brisk pace. I am not compelled to see the film, though...
Profile Image for Ron.
394 reviews97 followers
March 11, 2022
Roy Hobbs wanted to be remembered as the best ever known, in a time when baseball was king, the people came for the fanfare, and for the men on the field. His desire to be the best is not said until much later when Roy is much older, considered past his prime for the game, and yet here he walks, a rookie once again. The boy with a blistering fast ball found just out of high school is still there inside of him, because the desire for the game can never be truly lost. Instead of that long ago dream of Cub's field, he steps into the Knights dugout to sit at the end of the bench until his name is called. When it is, Roy will pick up a bat named Wonderboy, and for a time he just might be the best to cross that patch of grass.

Frankly, give me a good story about sports and I'll read it. Fiction, or non-fiction. It doesn't matter, especially if it involves an underdog. In some ways, Roy is that. Instead of this immediately being the story of an underdog, Roy is the man who lost a promising career too soon, only to then make an improbable come back. Amazingly, it is based, although loosely, on a real person (I learned this after completing the book). Malamud took liberties, never intending for this to be biographical. The plot itself is never fluid, and becomes hampered by Roy's fixation on the woman in his life, who is not in his life. But, by the end I could see Malamud's purpose. Overall, the book is fair. This was his first novel, and in it I came across moments of that brilliant writing I remember finding in The Fixer, and that is more than fair for reading.

”The ball appeared to the batter to be a slow moving planet looming toward earth. For a long light-year he waited for this globe to whirl into the orbit of his swing so he could bust it to smithereens that would settle with dust and dead leaves into some distant cosmos.”
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,257 followers
February 25, 2014
A true slice of that American pie...or rather a slice of the true American pie (with a dusting of nuts on top)...(I mean "crazy" nuts)...(jesus, this metaphor is falling apart like a...like a bad analogy!).

For the better part of the last hundred years, baseball has meant America. The Natural is about baseball, thus The Natural is about America. The American dream of working hard and making something of yourself is encapsulated herein. The protagonist, Roy Hobbs is a young baseball prospect with the world ahead of him. Malamud uses a train metaphor to show Hobbs' "inevitable" path to glory. Well that train gets derailed, the promising athletic career is sidetracked until it's almost too late, leaving Hobbs with only a fast-closing window of opportunity. That is a more realistic version of the dream. Some make it big, most fade away.

Obviously there is a good deal of baseball-talk, so I'm not sure I'd recommend this to everyone. In that respect, for me it was nearly perfect. I love following sports, and if you pair that with a ripping yarn, I'm yours. Malamud put together a pretty good story. I was tempted to give it 4 stars, but instead I'm going with a really strong 3. There were a couple strange, almost nutty scenes that had me shaking my head and thinking the Three Stooges had just barged into this otherwise perfectly good book.
Profile Image for Malacorda.
516 reviews306 followers
July 14, 2020
Non sarà uno di quei romanzi che ti cambiano la vita (è una lettura troppo agile per far parte della categoria) ma è una bella storia di ripartenza - per lo meno tentativo di ripartenza - avvincente e alternativa rispetto il plot medio. Purtroppo il film ha provveduto a riportarla nei ranghi dello stereotipo.

Il protagonista è una ottima creazione: dal punto di vista sportivo è un superman, ma questo super-potere viene stemperato dagli altri suoi tratti: un po' orso, un po' bifolco, non stupido, sempre sul chi vive per la consapevolezza della propria ignoranza, e infine caratterizzato da una debolezza del tutto terrena che sarà poi la cifra della sua vicenda. Il risultato di questo mix è che le sue risposte, nei dialoghi, sono sempre taglienti: taglienti perché precise e concise, e taglienti anche perché sottendono un certo humour.
Il carattere della voce narrante, pur essendo esterna e onnisciente, va a braccetto con il carattere del protagonista: ha un'ironia asciutta e contenuta, dai toni sempre pacati.

Personaggi femminili tratteggiati forse con un po' troppa leggerezza che in pratica diventa superficialità, però le storie d'amore sono impostate bene, come in un gioco a rimpiattino e senza nessuna melensaggine.

Il racconto sviluppa piuttosto bene il tema della superstizione, del malocchio, della jella cronica o passeggera, e questo tema giunge infine a porsi come elemento di un certo rilievo all'interno dell'altro grande tema, quello del raggiungimento dei propri obiettivi di vita. La trama sembra suggerire che chi è segnato, dal destino o dalla iattura o dir si voglia, nella vita è destinato a fare perennemente fiasco.
Ma non è tutto qui il discorso: sembra anche voler ribadire il detto che "chi troppo vuole nulla stringe", un appetito insaziabile porterà alla disfatta mentre la frugalità alla lunga porterà più lontano. Non mi è ben chiaro in che modo questa morale possa andare ad innestarsi nella mentalità tipica americana del volercela fare ad ogni costo, quella del "nessun sogno è irrealizzabile se lotti con tutte le tue forze"; dove starà la linea di confine tra la sana ambizione e l'appetito malsano e insaziabile? Probabilmente le due mentalità non si intersecano da nessuna parte, è semplicemente Malamud che la pensa diversamente dalla stragrande maggioranza dei suoi connazionali, probabilmente influenzato dalla sua esperienza personale: figlio di immigrati che durante la gioventù ha vissuto sulla propria pelle e visto con i propri occhi la Grande Depressione.

Ultima nota riguardo gli aspetti editoriali: la traduzione sembra suonare bene, nessunissimo refuso. Continuo a non condividere la scelta di piazzare le note bio-bibliografiche tra l'epigrafe e l'inizio vero e proprio del romanzo.
Profile Image for Mandy.
61 reviews1 follower
September 22, 2007
One of the most over-rated novels in all of American Literature. Malamud cannot write. Or he writes like a 13-year-old boy would write. It baffles me -- baffles me! -- why this book is considered a classic and why on earth we would teach it to high school students. It must be because it's about baseball. Big farkin' deal. Do yourself a favor -- skip the book and watch the movie. Redford is excellent in the film and gives the story more depth than the author ever could.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
February 16, 2019
Most people are familiar with the film ‘The Natural’ starring Robert Redford. It follows Roy Hobbs a thirty five year old who gets a second chance at the major leagues after he was shot by a deranged woman some fifteen years earlier while he was in the semi-pros. No one knows the secret of who this 35 year old rookie is but everyone including a sleazy sportswriter is determined to find out. Hobbs still has the bullet lodged in his gut and certainly feels self conscious about losing his second chance if his health condition were revealed. He is very mysterious and tight lipped about his past and struggles to find his way in this dark and immoral world of baseball, bookies, crooked owners and mysterious women.

In my opinion the novel, written by Bernard Malamud and upon which the film is based, is better. The film closely tracks the novel up to the concluding scenes where the plots diverge. The novel is slightly darker and is the more historically realistic of the two. It is said that Hobbs was based on two figures: Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was part of the famous 1919 BlackSox betting scandal, and Eddie Waitkus, a major league all star who in 1949 was shot by a deranged teenage girl.

The novel was published just a few years after the Eddie Waitkus shooting in Chicago. In fact most of the book’s major events take place in Chicago. In reading I never got a sense that Malamud had any developed knowledge of baseball but in a weird way this made the story better for me as a fan of the sport. Malamud described baseball in vivid and odd ways that I’ve never heard before such as; “The ball appeared to the batter to be a slow spinning planet looming toward the earth” or “Though he stood about sixty feet away, he loomed up gigantic to Roy, with the wood held like a caveman’s ax on his shoulder”.

Malamud writes as a humanist and morality and fate are the themes of the book. While The Natural is more fantastical, mystical and allegorical than his other great novels, The Assistant and The Fixer, the main characters aren’t that dissimilar. His characters, including Hobbs, are all instruments of fate; dreaming of ways to change their outcomes in life but just unable or unwilling to do so. I don’t know that any of the main characters are even that likable, yet I am so invested in them. I wanted Roy Hobbs to vanquish his demons and triumph over the bookies and villains in the worst way.

Yes Malamud was a one of a kind. His collection of short stories called The Magic Barrel was also quite good.

Five stars.
Profile Image for SCARABOOKS.
285 reviews214 followers
December 24, 2017
Malamud è un formidabile raccontatore di storie di infelicità. Ha una prosa nitida, di una agilità e di una eleganza che non fa intuire sforzi. Un talento naturale.

Come quello di Roy Hobbs, che voleva diventare iI Migliore dei giocatori di baseball. Molti si lamentano del baseball, parlando di questo libro. Ma sbagliano. Non importa capirci niente di mazze e palle, in realtà, per starci dentro. E molti parlano di demolizione del Sogno Americano, quello per cui, se sei bravo e ce la metti tutta, l’America ti dà un’opportunità e poi un’altra e prima o poi ce la fai. Con Malamud non funziona mai così. E non per via che il Sogno Americano è un imbroglio. Quello, se è vero, viene dopo, è un corollario. Non funziona così perche Malamud ha una visione tetra prima che pessimistica dell’uomo in generale e della sua traiettoria di vita, ovunque si svolga: in uno shtetl o a Brooklyn, in una bottega o nella stadio più importante del mondo. I suoi personaggi anche quando hanno un talento, come in questo caso, anche quando ci provano una prima volta e poi ci riprovano, come accade qui, si portano dentro una inguaribile insoddisfazione, una consapevolezza di vanità dello sforzo e una inconsapevole percezione che non andrà bene, che qualcosa di malato dentro di loro o dentro la vita in quanto tale, prima o poi li porterà a fallire. Parla di “gente che nella vita, per una ragione o per l’altra, viaggia sempre sugli stessi binari e non ottiene mai quello che vuole, qualunque cosa sia”.

Ci sono pagine e figure belle per davvero in questo romanzo: il giudice e in particolare il primo incontro di Roy con lui, per esempio. E lo sono anche certe annotazioni come l’esaltazione del buio o come la figura di Memo Paris, la donna-emblema della infelicità, senza nessuna consistenza di carattere, legata alle apparenze e al successo sociale eppure capace di esercitare un’attrazione rovinosa: una sorta di trappola vivente. Più che in altri romanzi poi, forse complessivamente migliori di questo, colpisce come anche nei momenti in cui le cose sembrano girare al meglio, in cui meriti, talento e fortuna sembrano finalmente allinearsi su una traiettoria di ascesa, di successo, riesca a far affiorare nel personaggio con un aggettivo, una divagazione descrittiva, una banale annotazione il marchio inconfondibile con cui riconosci tutti gli infelici. E cioè la certezza che quella fortuna, ogni fortuna, è un illusione e nasconde un inganno; che quella precaria felicità verrà pagata a caro prezzo; e quel prezzo riporterà le cose nella normalità riposante, perché in equilibrio col corso naturale delle cose, nell’alveo della sofferenza. Se c’è un motto che potrebbe essere messo sotto la foto di tutti gli infelici e anche del Migliore è questo: “la felicità si paga a caro prezzo”.

Eppure, nonostante tutto questo, la conclusione del romanzo mi ha sorpreso. Non perché non mi aspettassi qualcosa del genere: conosco (e amo) Malamud. Oltre che sorpreso infatti sono ammirato dalla perfezione desolante del ghirigoro di trama che imbastisce nel finale, da grandissimo raccontatore di storie appunto, fino a farti perdere la bussola. E con quell’arabesco che potrebbe portare dappertutto, raggiunge alla fine il punto esatto di esito possibile più profondamente nero, oscuro, in cui nulla si salva e nulla si impara. In cui ci si arrende e basta.
Profile Image for Laura Leaney.
468 reviews106 followers
May 7, 2018
I can't believe how many low star ratings this book has from Goodreads members; reading them after the fact came as a bit of a jolt, because I found the book suspenseful, artistic, beautifully surreal, and funny.

The book begins in medias res with Roy Hobbs "prick[ing] a match with his thumbnail and hold[ing] the spurting flame in his cupped palm close to the lower berth window." There's a train chugging to Chicago, a tunnel, a moon, reflections in the window pane, dreamy hills, a "bone-white farmhouse with sagging skeletal porch," and a long, lonely train whistle. From the first line, I was impressed with the film noir-ish aspect and the dark heart of this American fable (overtly about baseball, but more honestly about mythic heroes).

Roy is the golden hayseed, the boy from nowhere with a special baseball bat (kept in a bassoon case) called Wonderboy. He uses it just once - at a whistle stop carnival - while trying to impress a woman and accidentally kills Sam, the scout who discovered him. He then is lured to the hotel room of the mysterious Harriet Bird, who drops a black veil over her head and shoots him in the gut with a silver bullet. Good lord!

Fast forward and now Hobbs is over 30 and "too old" for baseball's finest teams. Still, he hasn't lost his abilities and Wonderboy is still with him. He signs on to the most losing-est team in the league, the New York Knights, who have lost forty-five innings in a row. Hobbs replaces their star player, Bump Bailey, who dies from slamming himself into the back wall chasing down a ball. The Knights begin to win and win some more. And then they stop winning. Hobbs has lost his focus to a woman in a red dress......and then there's a woman in a white dress......and then the World Series is on the line. The end is nothing like the movie.

It's hard not to like a book that features a man with a glass eye, a profane dwarf, and femme fatales who act as sirens to lure the hero away from his greatness. I could easily take umbrage at the sexism here, but I don't have the heart. The Natural is a surprisingly dark book about the creepy underside of our hero athletes.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,583 followers
December 24, 2015
I haven't seen the movie, but other reviewers mention that the movie is sparkling and upbeat, while the novel is rather dark. And that is true; this is not an altogether "happy" story. It seems like Roy Hobbs will be a fantastic pitcher, able to strike out batters without their even seeing the ball. But that is quickly cut short ... no, I am not going to spoil the story here. Roy Hobbs' career as a baseball player is shut down before it really gets started. And he does not return to the game for fifteen years, when most people consider players to be near the end of their career. He becomes a very talented baseball player, but not a superhuman one; he has his superstitions, and he undergoes slumps occasionally, and sometimes has to be kicked out of them. Hobbs does not make the best choices when it comes to women. He ignores the wonderful woman who is right under his nose, and goes for one who is simply wrong for him.

Unlike his stories about Jewish life, here Bernard Malamud portrays a slice of middle America. The book portrays the baseball players, the club owner, the reporter, and the bookie with realism. I enjoyed the style, and sometimes felt myself wanting to yell, "You dummy Roy! Do the right thing!"

I didn't read this book; I listened to the audiobook. Christopher Hurt is an excellent narrator, and helped me to gain more enjoyment out of the story.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
March 10, 2021
The seamy side of baseball, of sports in general, is what is drawn here. Being a fan of realism, I ought to like The Natural more than I do. The jargon of the players, fans and spectators, the excitement at the matches, the jostling, drinking and brawling, the betting tied to the winnings, the fraudulent fixing of games are all here.

There are two time frames. First, we are traveling with Roy Hobbes on a train to Chicago. He is nineteen and is to try out with a Chicago baseball team, the Cubs. A female murderess, a lunatic, has been killing top sports figures—it is this that fills the news. This female character is loosely based on the real life nineteen-year-old Ruth Ann Steinhagen. In 1949, Steinhagen shot and nearly killed the Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie Waitkus. Back to the fictional tale: the train stops en route. A carnival is in progress. An impromptu match is taken up. On the train, in addition to Roy, is also a major league baseball star known as The Whammer. This character is modelled on Babe Ruth. The two face off against each other. Roy is the clear winner--striking The Whammer out with three pitches. On the train too sits the lunatic murderess. Her attention, originally fixed on The Whammer, shifts now to Roy. At the start, the readers’ suspicions of intended foul play mount. There are elements of mystery and suspense. Dreams and reality are intertwined. What is real? What is not?

The time frame switches. The story recommences sixteen years later. Roy is a newly recruited player of the Knights, a fictional major league baseball team in New York. It’s on a losing streak. One gets a whiff of the less than legitimate deals and counter deals made between owners, co-owners and managers. Can the losing streak be turned to a winning streak? There is competition over girls too. The talk is ribald, often crude.

Ultimately the story concerns why one plays a sport. Money? Fame? Sportsmanship? Or for the soul, the spirit, the beauty of the game? For the pride one can feel, the inner satisfaction felt on simply playing a good match?

The ending is bleak.

Fred Berman narrates the audiobook. I like how he intones the clamor of the matches--realistic but not overdone. The text is not hard to follow. Extraordinarily well performed? No, but good. Three stars for the audio narration.

*The Fixer 4 stars
*The Assistant 4 stars
*Dubin's Lives 4 stars
*A New Life 3 stars
*The Tenants 2 stars
*The Natural 2 stars
*God's Grace not-for-me
Profile Image for LW.
349 reviews59 followers
March 26, 2018
Abbiamo due vite. Quella in cui impariamo e quella che viviamo dopo .

Storie, storie, storie: per me non esiste altro. Spesso gli scrittori che non riescono a inventare una storia seguono altre strategie, perfino sostituendo lo stile alla narrazione. Invece io sono convinto che la storia sia l’elemento di base della narrativa, anche se questo ideale non gode di molta popolarità tra i discepoli del nouveau roman. Mi ricordano quel pittore che non riusciva a dipingere le persone, così dipingeva sedie. Le storie ci accompagneranno finché esisterà l’uomo. Lo si capisce, in parte, dall’effetto che hanno sui bambini.
Grazie alle storie i bambini capiscono che il mistero non li ucciderà. Grazie alle storie scoprono di avere un futuro .

Bernard Malamud

The Natural (Il Migliore) è la prima storia di B. Malamud .
La storia di una seconda chance ,
una storia sul coraggio di ricominciare e di continuare ad inseguire i propri ostinati desideri .

"Ho sbattuto la testa un sacco di volte e sono stato ferito in tante maniere. Ci sono stati momenti in cui ho pensato che non sarei mai arrivato da nessuna parte, e mi ci sono mangiato il fegato, ma adesso è tutta acqua passata.
So di avere la stoffa e ci arriverò".
"Dove voglio arrivare".

Appassionante e crudele .
Ah, sì , ed è anche un'avvincente storia di baseball

PS. La prefazione al libro scritta da Philip Roth è ... qualcosa di più di una prefazione ,
mi è piaciuta tantissimo e davvero, impreziosisce questo primo romanzo di Malamud !
è più un omaggio ,un ricordo molto intimo , dell'amico Bern, pieno di stima, affetto ,rispetto...
mi ha commosso :)
Profile Image for bup.
646 reviews65 followers
June 23, 2023
I can't believe how little Malamud apparently knew baseball. I tried to understand this book three different ways - first, as a remarkable story set in the real world. NFW. Second, as a surreal fairy-tale/morality play, a la Coelho's The Alchemist. No, Malamud simply seems to believe what he wrote too much. I mean, there are obviously surreal elements, but Malamud didn't make the full commitment. It's just not that. Third, as a kid's book. Almost, until you get to the end. He really thought he had something powerful for adults.

The book's just a mess. Malamud just doesn't understand baseball. Most of the book, at-bats go three pitches. Exactly three pitches (leading me to think hey-maybe-it's-surreal. If I were to rewrite the book that's the direction I'd take. But I'd stick with it. Which convinces me he didn't get how baseball is.) The titular Roy Hobbs also has way too much control - fouling pitches where he wants them to go, consecutively. But you know, only for two pitches, because the third pitch has to end the at-bat.

The plot emerges as organized as sputum, with plenty of metaphorical guns-hung-over-the-mantel* that get forgotten, and places where Roy does the right thing only to undo it. To his fault, Malamud used one historical incident where a player got shot by a crazy woman in a hotel room, but he uses it randomly, seemingly tacked onto the front of a story about something else. To his credit, Robert Redford took a novel called The Natural and used it randomly, making a good movie out of a couple of random pieces therein.

People who like Jerry B. Jenkins' overt, confused moralizing might like this book. People who like those glurgy e-mails that seem to say something uplifting until you really think about it, might like this book. I don't.

*can be spelled either mantel or mantle. I didn't know.
Profile Image for Carol Storm.
Author 28 books192 followers
April 1, 2015
Gloomy and full of sadness, yet lacking any real lessons or even a real heart.

What's striking about THE NATURAL is that critics love the IDEA of the book -- a Jewish-American writer certifies his "American" identity by writing the Great American Baseball Novel. Yet almost nobody who reads this book ever remembers any of the ball games -- or any of the characters -- or any American scenes or situations or dialogue. It's full of shadowy sureallism and all seems to be set in some twilight world devoid of real human interest, appetites, satisfactions, and needs.

Roy Hobbes is not an All-American hero in this book. Nor is he a tragic hero. He's just a chump. He eats too much and gets sick to his stomach. He falls for a whore with a heart of ice who is hands-down the most offensive anti-woman stereotype I have ever read. He cares for nothing, learns nothing, and experiences no real change or growth at the end.

As much as I respect the idea of tragedy, I can't pretend this book is the real article. And as much as I hate to admit it, golden boy Robert Redford actually improved on his source material, turning an unreadable piece of crap into a fairly entertaining family film.

By the way, if you're looking for a great baseball novel by an "important" Jewish-American writer, THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL by Philip Roth is a much better book. None of the characters are especially sympathetic. But it's funnier, scarier, and far more attuned to the real issues in American life.
Profile Image for Siti.
320 reviews104 followers
April 3, 2023

Terminata la lettura di questo romanzo, quello d’esordio del grande narratore americano, si viene ancora una volta sorpresi e dalla capacità narrativa dell’autore e dalla sua particolare originalità che, per chi ha già letto parte importante della sua produzione, stupiscono essere presenti in un’opera prima.
La narrazione è incentrata su un uomo solo, annientato, piegato ma non ancora sconfitto, inutile dire, per chi già conosce la poetica dell’autore, che allo status di vinto si avvierà, come tanti suoi antieroi della produzione successiva: l’ebreo della Russia zarista vittima di un errore giudiziario, l’ebreo americano votato al suo umile commercio , il professore di letteratura alla ricerca del suo riscatto come individuo, o ancora l’artista fallito costretto ad un eterno apprendistato. Sono Mendel Beilis, Morris Bober, Seymour Levin e Arthur Fidelman e il loro antenato è Roy Hobbs, giovane promessa del baseball americano.

Roy Hobbs è un personaggio impreziosito da una serie di caratteristiche che lo elevano agli occhi del lettore in una dimensione quasi epica: è dotato di un talento naturale per il baseball, è uno sprovveduto, ingenuo e sognatore, è accompagnato dalla sua inseparabile mazza Wonderboy che lui stesso ha ricavato da un albero colpito da un fulmine, ha un debole per le donne, è purtroppo anche uno che non si accontenta mai. Mentre si avvia, ancora giovanissimo, ad una brillante carriera, diviene la terza vittima di una pistolera che sta sterminando a suon di pallottole d’argento il fior fiore degli atleti americani. Colpito al ventre si salva ma subisce uno stop di quindici anni durante i quali si arrangia a far di tutto per sopravvivere e riacciuffare il suo sogno. Ormai superati i trenta riesce a farsi accogliere da una squadra sull’orlo del collasso e tenterà di far vivere col suo riscatto personale quello di un’intera squadra.
L’ambiente sportivo è realisticamente rappresentato e regala un’ambientazione sobria, viva, verace, dove il lessico sporco non stona mai e si addice perfettamente al mondo restituito. La specificità relativa allo sport , anche quando non conosciuto, è facilmente dribblabile e non mina la comprensione globale. Alle basi, alle linee di foul, alla casa base, allo strike, si accompagna una vicenda umana che fa palpitare tenendo incollati gli occhi alle pagine, suscettibili come non mai se si viene interrotti nella lettura e bramosi di saper che ne sarà di questo ragazzone. L’alternanza di sogno e realtà, Roy è vittima di incubi ricorrenti e di sogni ad occhi aperti, contribuisce inoltre a tenere desta l’attenzione sperando sempre che il realismo dell’incubo dissolva e l’evanescenza del sogno si materializzi.
Non posso anticipare niente della trama, aggiungo solo due belle donne, l’una l’antitesi dell’altra, gli allibratori dello sporco mondo delle scommesse, un antagonista morto il cui fantasma si impone prepotente, i sogni di gloria, la volontà di riscattarsi e la capacità di non tradirsi.

1 settembre 2016
Profile Image for Joseph Sciuto.
Author 8 books134 followers
February 23, 2019
After reading Doris Kerns Goodwin, “Wait Until Next Year” which was absolutely fabulous, and watching the movie “Field of Dreams” for the tenth time and then reading the magnificent, lyrical novel, “Shoeless Joe” which the movie was based on, I decided to try my luck with Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural.” In truth, I had never read anything by Mr. Malamud (a sad reflection on myself) and I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen the movie many of years ago, and what I remember of it was that I was not thrilled with it. As a big baseball fan, it just didn’t do it for me, yet all my friends seemed to love it.

Mr. Malamud’s novel is another story altogether. It is a novel whose hero, Roy Hobbs, is in many respects its anti-hero. Only a writer with extreme courage and brilliance can pull this off and Mr. Malamud’s novel is a testament to his courage and brilliance as a writer.

Roy Hobbs, the natural, is an extremely, once in a lifetime slugger, whose promotion to the big leagues is halted in its tracks when he is the victim of a shooting at the age of 20. At the age of thirty-five he suddenly shows up in the dugout of the last place NY Knights as a rookie. The manager and ballplayers don’t know what to make of him. After all, most ballplayers have retired at the age of thirty-four (the book was published in 1952) and here is this rookie at thirty-five. From the time of the shooting, until he shows up 15 years later in the dugout, the writer tells you nothing about what Roy has been up to.

Once Roy is given his chance to play, he is naturally this phenomenon the likes of Babe Ruth, but better. In lyrical, breathtaking dream and flashback sequences, bits of his past are revealed to us but never the whole picture. In fact, except for the manager, Pop, none of the magnificent characters in this novel are fully explained and described to the reader. Their past, like in real life, is scrawled in mystery.

Baseball is at the center of this novel, but at the heart of this amazing book is the struggle, despair, failures, regrets, accomplishments, dreams and the part that pure chance and luck play in all our lives…Day after day, year after year, over a lifetime… Whether that lifetime is short or long. Like Roy Hobbs none of us can be the hero all of the time.
461 reviews
February 5, 2016
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I have gotten to teach it twice now, and each time I read it, I'm more and more impressed with Malamud's spot-on perspective on American heroes, the dreams we create for ourselves and how they change and diminish as we age, and the inevitable failure that we all have lurking inside of us. Despite the fact that Roy Hobbs is an utterly frustrating character -- does he ever make the right choice? -- it's hard to be too down on him because it's easy to see ourselves in his bad choices. There is something so human about this book, and I adore anything that portrays humanity in all its beauty and messiness.
Profile Image for Eleanor.
528 reviews50 followers
July 11, 2019
The story of a flawed and injured man who hides his scars, both physical and mental, as he tries to resume his interrupted career as a professional baseball player. In the end, he destroys it all to try to win a woman who doesn't love him but has manipulated him.

The ending is very powerful and so much better than the "happily ever after" ending which I gather was used in the film of this book.

Four stars.
Profile Image for Lance.
1,456 reviews107 followers
November 13, 2017
This tale of a 35-year-old baseball player with extremely gifted talent for the game paints a mostly dark picture of a flawed man. Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel about Roy Hobbs and his time playing for the New York Knights is considered to be a classic baseball fictional story and was also adapted onto film in the 1980’s, with Robert Redford starring as Hobbs. I will add a disclaimer that I have never seen the film, so this review and the opinions within are based only on this book.

I found Malamud’s development of the main characters in the story very good, even though there wasn’t a single character in the story that I could say I felt was a protagonist or a “good” guy or lady. Hobbs has several character flaws which I believe portray him in a less-than-favorable light, such as always seeking out intimate relations with any woman with whom he is in contact. One of these women, Memo, was taking a fancy to a teammate of Hobbs who died on the baseball field, Bump Bailey.

Bailey’s untimely demise is the reason Hobbs became a started on the Knights and he immediately tries to court Memo, whose own character flaws are revealed later. About the only character who seems be able to evoke sympathy from a reader is Iris, and the reason she is initially not Hobb’s type of lady is that she is a young grandmother. This doesn’t sound like the typical baseball hero in a fictional story – but Roy and all the other main characters are well developed by Malamud. Maybe the reader won’t like them, but the reader will believe that he or she knows them.

The story moves along well both on and off the diamond. The baseball scenes are written well for the time depicted, which was when there was no night baseball and the game moved along at a quicker pace than today’s sport with many pitching changes. There is one big leap of logic, however – how does Roy become such a great pitcher at 19 to strike out the mighty Whammer in a duel, yet later becomes such a great hitter and outfielder at 35?

I must also mention one other character that is baseball-centric, Wonderboy. That is the name Roy has given to his bat, and he treats Wonderboy better than he treats the ladies, with special polishing and storing. If there is any character who deserved pity - even though this character is an object – it is the ultimate demise of Wonderboy. The fact that Roy made sure to bury Wonderboy on a baseball field says a lot about Roy’s relationship with his favorite bat.

The audio version of the book was narrated superbly by Christopher Hurt, who did his best to make the listener feel like he or she is on the field or in the hotel with Roy and company. While the ending is dark and leaves the reader feeling down, the book certainly does earn a place in the library of classic baseball novels.

Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 24 books1,324 followers
June 22, 2018
Although Bernard Malamud is one of the authors I collect as part of my rare-book dealership at eBay, I've never actually read him before; and since I was about to watch again the 1984 Robert Redford film adaptation of his most famous book, I thought I'd start with his 1952 debut novel, The Natural, then start slowly making my way forward from there over the next couple of years.

The movie made a big impression on me in high school, back when it first came out, because of its Reagan-era sunlight-kissed somber elevation of baseball into literal National Myth; so imagine my surprise when reading the book and realizing that Malamud doesn't present the story in this way at all in the original novel, but rather as his own tongue-in-cheek, rough-and-tumble attempt at writing a Paul Bunyan tall tale to be told around campfires and small-town barber shops, a slangy folk story about a mysterious baseball player who one day shows up out of nowhere, performs a series of almost magical feats that will leave people debating their veracity for years to come ("He did not literally hit the cover off a baseball!" "He did too literally hit the cover off a baseball!"), then after a heartbreaking end to his single season as a professional player, slinks off and is never seen by anyone again.

In the movie, Robert Redford presents our hero Roy Hobbs as a cross between Jesus and...well, Robert Redford, an angelically beautiful wunderkind who sort of floats his way through his year as a pro player to the stirring strings and anamorphic twinkling of a Hollywood movie; but now that I've read the book, I've discovered that I much more prefer Malamud's portrayal of him as a barely literate meathead, a small-town lunk who's had a singular obsession since childhood with one day being "the best ball player of all time," to the point of even creating his own bat from scratch as a child that he is still using as a middle-ager getting his last chance at greatness. And indeed, this book makes even more sense when you look at what was happening in Malamud's real life at the time of its writing; the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who lived in Brooklyn from birth until the age of 35, it's no coincidence that Malamud's first exposure to America at large was in 1949, when he accepted a cross-country professorship at Oregon State University, and that he then wrote this ode to "the rest of America" just one year later, eventually being published in 1952.

Given this timeline, it's easy to surmise that Malamud meant for this to be a boozy, slangy reflection of the non-Brooklyn US he was exposed to after his trip across the country, especially welcome at a time right after World War Two when America was shaping up for the first time to be the world's leading superpower; and I suppose we'll forgive him for this also being the kickoff of the disturbing "Academic White Guys Ruin Everything That Used To Be Fun" trend that eventually culminated 40 years later with the Ken Burns 14-hour documentary that finally ruined baseball for good. (But for more on academic white guys ruining formerly fun things, see jazz, whiskey, comic books, beer, and a lot more.) The book's not without its faults -- the entire unexplained subplot about a woman who shoots Hobb at the very beginning of his career is like a knife stab into the usual three-act structure of literary novels, an off-putting moment that throws the rhythm of the entire rest of the story off -- but in general I was pleasantly surprised at what a more rollicking and ramshackle book this turned out to be than what I was expecting, a fantastic relic from the Mid-Century Modernist era that would be difficult to replicate in our own American Downfall times. It comes recommended specifically to those who think they might like it; and in the meanwhile, stay tuned for my review of my next Malamud read, 1957's The Assistant, which with its focus on Russian Jewish immigrant life in Brooklyn is much more in Malamud's natural wheelhouse.
Profile Image for Steve Holden.
477 reviews9 followers
July 21, 2017
This is a tricky review. I was recommended this classic by my father-in-law who recently found a collection of his work on a bookventure, and knows how much I love the game of baseball. As a boy, the movie about Roy Hobbs was a favorite and fantasy. I grew up in a rural town, and my father passed on his love of baseball to me before I knew how to walk and talk. I loved playing the game. My friends and I played it all the time in spring, summer, and fall. I was on multiple teams, and in my neighborhood, we actually built a baseball field in an open field. We were all 8 at the time, and I remember it clearly. A few adults took a liking to our inspiring work and helped us create a wall and delivered chalk for the lines.

I'm getting off on memory lane, and away from this work and review. I loved the game. I adored the movie. It was a fairytale of a baseball movie. A boy from a rural town, discovered, and eventually getting his chance. He tore up the competition with the bat he made, Wonderboy. Oh, and the ending. It was a good film - made you feel good, and the character and story made you want to get out and play the game even more. I don't know how this book, the inspiration to the movie has just now entered my grasp, but I was very happy to spend a couple hours with this and see where the thoughts began . . .

And oh, how it's different. Typical with the era this was written, this is a dark tale - written in a dark time. Baseball is a part of the story, but it's a backdrop to the themes focused by Malamud. Apparently, there were recurring themes in his work, and this one used baseball - the American pastime - to help tell his story of trying to obtain the American Dream. Roy Hobbs, in the eyes of Malamud, wasn't quite the fairytale character found in the movie. The Robert Redford classic took the namesake of the character, the era, and some of the journey, but they sure made it a lot happier.

After reading this, I've come to the conclusion, I like my baseball tales a bit happier! This is one of those rare occurrences that I'll take the movie over the book. Now it could be me being disconnected to the struggles and dilemmas Malamud puts in his lead character, but the movie was a part of my life, and I sure did enjoy watching it! In this work, Hobbs seemingly makes wrong decision after wrong decision. The writing style of Malamud is difficult at times in reading this. It's written in a prose style at parts, and with such darkness in most characters, I found it to be a juxtaposition that was hard to get fully into and overcome.

I will say that I love the character was to become in the movie version. For that, this was an enjoyable trip as a reader and one I'm happy to have taken.
Profile Image for Helen.
Author 12 books225 followers
July 24, 2016
Hm. Apparently, I do not have a shelf for this book. What sort of shelf would that be? Baseball fiction? Books That Use Baseball as an Interminable Metaphor? Books that Express Disillusionment with the American Dream? Because it definitely belongs on those shelves. But I think the shelf this book fits best on is "I Liked the Movie Better."

Because the movie was awesome.
Profile Image for Pitichi.
523 reviews23 followers
January 4, 2019
Non conosco le regole del baseball e non sono appassionata di sport. Ammetto di aver deciso di leggere questo romanzo solo perché affascinata dal suo autore, la cui maestria avevo già amato ne Il commesso.

Il migliore narra la parabola sportiva di Roy Hobbs, un ragazzo molto dotato, scoperto a 19 anni da un talent scout alcolizzato e in declino di nome Sam "Bub" Simpson.
La carriera del giovane, che sembrava avviata ad una escalation di successi, si interrompe bruscamente a Chicago per il fortuito intervento di una ragazza, Harriet Bird. Roy accantona il suo sogno di diventare il più grande campione di tutti i tempi e di battere i record dei suoi predecessori.

Un lungo salto temporale, che nasconde al nostro sguardo quanto successo al protagonista negli ultimi quindici anni, quasi a decretare che le sue fatiche non avessero alcun valore al di fuori del campo da baseball, ci porta al momento in cui Roy ha una seconda possibilità di compiere il suo destino e viene accolto nella formazione dei New York Knights. Dovrà ora dimostrare il proprio valore, così da entrare nella leggenda.

Il migliore non è, tuttavia, un romanzo che parla di riscatto, e il finale non porta pace, così come accade di solito nelle storie esemplari dei grandi vincitori. Malamud sceglie di raccontare la storia personale di un uomo che avrebbe potuto essere il migliore, che avrebbe voluto essere il migliore, e che pure è tormentato dalla percezione di essere predestinato a soccombere. Sembra quasi che Roy attiri a sé la sventura: la prima volta invaghendosi di una ragazza folle, la seconda volta appassionandosi ad una donna avida.
Tre sono le donne che compaiono in questo romanzo: Harriet, Memo ed Iris. Il loro ruolo è puramente simbolico, poiché rappresentano le diverse pulsioni del protagonista, il vizio e l'aspirazione, e quando riesce ad avvicinarsi a ciò cui anela, Roy si trova immancabilmente attratto da ciò che lo può distruggere.

Malamud ci parla della vittoria, ma soprattutto della sconfitta. Roy Hobbs si convince della ineluttabilità del suo destino e le sue decisioni, le battute della sua mazza, Wonderboy, i suoi incontri, tutto appare già definito e in alcun modo modificabile. È proprio lui a decretare il proprio fallimento e, quando si accorge dell'errore, ormai non può più aggiustare le cose.

Leggendo Il migliore mi è sembrato quasi impossibile comprenderne il significato, come se l'autore avesse tentato di spiegare che la vita che viviamo è del tutto arbitraria e sono le nostre convinzioni a orientarla. Come una palla che, colpita dalla mazza, prende una direzione piuttosto che un'altra.

Se ti piace la mia recensione, passa a leggerla sul mio blog: https://bulimialetteraria.wordpress.c...
Profile Image for Dennis.
830 reviews35 followers
October 15, 2022
I probably didn't enjoy this book as much then as I would now as I wasn't much for ambiguous endings at the time but I was definitely moved by Bernard Malamud's prose and plotting. The story of a baseball star suffering an inexplicable tragedy and the overcoming it later in his life just hooked me and even if I didn't quite understand the motivations of the characters - the inner workings - I could understand dilemna of the main character, Roy Hobbs, at the end. I'd definitely love to revisit this book to see how I feel about it 40 years later so I have my evey out for a used copy!
Profile Image for Ryan.
45 reviews4 followers
February 27, 2023
Bernard Malamud's classic debut novel remains such a potent blend of myth, tragedy and irony, filtered through America's obsession with individual achievement in the realm of baseball, its national pastime, all these years later. It's a shame that the vast majority of people associate The Natural with the hokey Robert Redford movie rather than Malamud's book, which takes a far darker, more critical perspective on the hero worship of athletes, and eschews the simplistic pandering of the film and its cornball ending in favor of a more ambiguous conclusion that gives us a deeply flawed Roy Hobbs' whose ultimate victory looks a lot like defeat, and shows us the amount of sacrifice that often comes with choosing at last to preserve one's dignity. Throughout, Malamud's famously perfectionist craftsmanship is in abundance in his unusual, poetic phrasing, rich with darkly vivid symbolism and mixing the gritty reality of midcentury sport with dreamlike allusions to Arthurian Romance.
Profile Image for Will.
73 reviews14 followers
October 3, 2009
This book had its good points and its bad points, but in the end I felt underwhelmed. The movie left me feeling the same way, but at least that had Randy Newman's great score.

The good:

Malamud's writing can be humorous, at times even makes-you-chuckle-on-BART humorous. The introductory sequence with greenhorn Roy Hobbs on the train with the world-famous Whammer and pretty, mysterious Harriet Bird is unforgettable: evocative, inspiring and sad (those first 50 pages would have made a great short story on their own). For someone writing in the 50s, Malamud writes dream sequences that are admirably Freud-free and realistic. The book is also refreshingly straightforward and frank in its inclusion of sexual elements in the story. Also, this may be one of the few stories I've encountered, ever, where the drunkard character is not only sympathetic, but is in fact the only likable character. And then there are the food-porn passages: "Memo kidded him about the way he wolfed the sandwiches, but she showed her affection by also serving him half a cold chicken which he picked to the bone. He demolished a large slab of chocolate cake and made a mental note for a hamburger or two before he went to bed."

The bad:

Malamud's writing is weirdly inconsistent, and during the parts that he fills with flowery descriptive prose, it can get so over-the-top that you want to throw up your hands and toss the damn book into the BART tracks. The bulk of the book, regarding bitter 35-year-old Roy Hobbs's return to baseball, has almost nothing to do with the beginning. (Parenthetical note: If 19-year-old Hobbs is such a crack pitcher, why does 35-year-old Hobbs only play outfield? If he's retained his fantastic batting prowess, wouldn't he have retained his considerable pitching prowess too?) At least half of the characters in the book have a common or proper noun as a first or last name: "Memo Paris," "Red Blow," "Goodwill Banner," "Max Mercy," and so on. I am told that this is a literary thing, and such names are symbolic, not merely annoying. I suppose that Malamud's world is one in which the majority of parents are clairvoyantly channeling Sarah Palin's unique genius for name-giving (see Track, Trig, Willow, et al.). And then, the drunkard character is only in the story for the first 50 pages, and virtually all the other characters are unlikable. Roy Hobbs in particular comes across as a pathetic, childish jerk. I frequently enjoy depressing books with flawed protagonists, so I'm not sure why the lack of likable characters made this one difficult to enjoy. Oh well.
Profile Image for Saverio Mariani.
175 reviews19 followers
August 3, 2015
Si tratta del primo romanzo di Bernard Malamud, e il baseball la fa da padrona. Io, di baseball, ne so veramente poco, ma il libro rimane comunque godibile. Il personaggio principale, tale Roy Hobbs, è un promettente battitore. La sua vicenda sportiva si intreccia con quella della sua vita, il suo corpo dovrebbe rispondere in modo perfetto a ciò che, con la mente, egli vuole fare. Ma non sempre è così.
Roy è un personaggio, in fondo, solitario – come molti dei personaggi di Malamud. Egli ha una voglia matta di primeggiare, di essere ciò che sente di essere, di volere quella e soltanto quella donna. Ma, forse, per essere il migliore bisogna capire ciò che davvero si è, e non ciò che si pensa di essere.

Ps. il ricordo di Philip Roth all'inizio del libro è struggente, la capacità di una scrittura di acciaio che si ritrova anche in queste brevi pagine.
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