Thursday, August 9, 2012

"The Natural" by Bernard Malamud

I'm not a fan of baseball; it's slow and full of statistics, and they play way too many games for me to care. Thus it's not surprising that The Natural is probably only the second baseball book I've read, and, like the first (YA historical novel The Last Days of Summer), I only did so because it's a book I'll be teaching. But, despite my attitude toward the sport, I'll admit that America's pastime is a perfect backdrop with which to explore the American dream and its connections to masculinity.

For me, The Natural is a somewhat odd book, following the late-career emergence of Roy Hobbs, a "natural" hitter and fielder. Hobbs' early career was derailed by a crazy lady with a penchant for shooting top athletes, and when Hobbs finally makes the major leagues in his mid-30s, playing for the Knights, he's determined that his moment of glory has finally come. But the novel isn't an underdog story, but instead a tale of a man's insatiable desire to finally be a star--and thus achieve happiness. Hobbs is a sympathetic character, but he's also grossly naive, believing that elusive satisfaction is available solely by becoming a baseball legend and acquiring Memo, a red-head who had dated the Knights' recently deceased star player.

There's beautiful description throughout of the way Hobbs looks at the world, which allows the reader to understand where Hobbs is coming from while also seeing how deluded he is.

The Natural isn't really my thing, but it provides an excellent character study and would undoubtedly be a big draw for baseball fans.

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