The Natural

ISBN: 0374502005
ISBN 13: 9780374502003
By: Bernard Malamud Kevin Baker

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About this book

The classical novel (and basis for the acclaimed film) now in a new editionIntroduction by Kevin BakerThe 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.”

Reader's Thoughts

Casey Hampton

I picked this up after hearing that the Library of America was printing a two volume Bernard Malamud compilation. I chose to read The Natural since I'd seen the film when I was young, and was enthralled. I was excited because I figured that this would follow that age-old law wherein the book is superior to the film. Of course sometimes this universal dictum is inverted. We see this in Peter Benchley's Jaws. Jaws as a book is awful. But as a film, it is beauty and brilliance, and I defy anyone to say different.The Natural is fairly straightforward. A young man named Roy Hobbs is setting out on a path to greatness. The kid is going to be the best in the game of baseball; the best there was and ever will be. Life's train jumps its tracks and Hobbs doesn't become a ballplayer until his 30s.I didn't like the book. But the ending is solid, almost great. While the ending may not fully justify my time spent reading, it does come close. Malamud wrote The Natural in 1952, long before the antihero was acceptable (or heard of). Hobbs is a jerk. He's arrogant and doesn't mind taking a bribe. He's not the apple-pie farm boy who just wants to do his golly-durn best. Shucks anyway Mr.! Hobbs as jerk = compelling.So for myself, the ending made it worthwhile. I thought Malamud's writing came off as pretty ordinary. I wasn't swept away by his use of language or ability to tightly tease a scene. I was frustrated with Malamud's tendency to lull the reader into following a single POV, only to then yank that rug and introduce several other POVs in quick succession. This forced numerous backtrackings (sighing all the way). It frustrated me because it wasn't necessary.If you're interested in reading early anti-hero lit, check this out. If not, just go watch the film, Redford delivers.I'm thinking I should try another Malamud. His other stuff must be better... right, Library of America?


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.


An interesting tale by a great writer. It's a first novel, much simpler than some of Malamud's other work, the dialogue a little awkward, but perhaps intentionally so. Do not read further if you don't like spoilers. It is hard to say anything about this novel without giving away pivotal events.****************************We first meet Roy Hobbs as a young prospect who is being taken by a down-on-his-luck scout to a tryout for a big league team. Fate intervenes, the scout dies, and Roy is very seriously wounded. His chances for a career in professional ball are completely derailed.We next see a much older Roy as he arrives in New York to join the Knights, a major league team that is down on its luck. Roy is a mysterious figure with a dark and passionate nature and almost unbelievable skill. There are intimations of magic, perhaps contained in the bat he uses (which Roy made himself as a young man), but nothing is explicit or amplified. Roy is a bundle of sensitivities and nerves and desires. There is nothing warm or sunny about him -- he is irritable and often antagonistic towards his teammates, the fans, and management. As he begins to contribute to the team, he resents his poor salary as he aspires to to court a woman with expensive tastes.Roy knows his age will limit the length of his career and his ability to cash in on his skill. He longs for the greatness he has always felt is in him, and wants to break every record so that he will be remembered as the greatest baseball player that ever lived. But in the end, hard living, age, and temptation catch up with Roy. His body broken, he realizes that the only way he can gain the riches he needs to win the woman of his dreams is to throw an important playoff game. Roy resolves to do so, but changes his mind as the game progresses. In his last at-bat, Roy tries to win the game, but fails. The end of the book beautifully evokes the Black Sox scandal and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson who was believed to have thrown (along with several of his teammates) the 1919 World Series. It's a strong finish to a book that occasionally meanders. Malamud seems to be suggesting that an athlete, being but a human being, can be simultaneously great and incredibly flawed. Cheating is eternal even while it takes different forms, whether it be athletes taking illegal substances to improve performance, or athletes intentionally underperforming.We are much more aware now of cheating as a part of the professional sports scene than when Malamud wrote this novel. Outstanding performance is now often greeted with suspicion as well as excitement. Roy brings to mind the many baseball greats that are currently under dark clouds, those formerly assumed "first ballot Hall-of-Famers" whose records are now tainted by substantial evidence concerning performance-enhancing drugs. Just as Roy did, those modern players tried to defy the ravages of age and biology to break records and achieve what others could not. Roy at least seems aware of what he has lost and his own responsibility in his tragedy, while many today's players seem not to have grappled with the meaning of their actions, whether it be their original transgressions or their vigourous denials after the fact.


Halfway through April and the Royals are still above .500. Alex Gordon is playing like Roy Hobbs - minus the four-base dingers; I haven't enjoyed baseball this much since the first two weeks of April last year. I like Malamud's style. Realistic fiction turns suddenly to imaginative fantasy, and hyperbole serves as some abstract symbol. Roy Hobbs stays as enigmatic to the reader as he does to the other characters in the novel, yet it's easy to identify with his flights from confident optimism to cynical glumness and back again. Hobbs as a hero has the mythical feel, including the Achilles' heel.Favorite passage:"I felt that if people believed in you, you'd regain your power. That's why I stood up in the grandstand. I hadn't meant to before I came. It happened naturally. Of course I was embarrassed but I don't think you can do anything for anyone without giving up something of your own." -Iris Lemon

Elliot Ratzman

“Without heroes,” Iris Lemon tells the “natural” Roy Hobbs, “we’re all plain people and don’t know how far we can go.” The iconic movie was an idolatrous meditation on Nordic superman Robert Redford. The original book, Malamud’s first novel (1952), is actually a reverse of most of the pulp baseball story clichés, as strange and morally ambiguous as the movie is black and white. The Natural is the story of Roy Hobbs, a 34 year old baseball rookie, once prodigy without luck, wisdom or manners. Unlike Redford’s stoic Knight, Malamud’s is an all-too-human character, beset by lust, greed, mediocrity and overeating. I’m no fan of baseball or baseball fiction, but some of the descriptions of being at-bat are so impressive one should commit them to memory. The film preserves some of the better dialogue, but stops short. “We have two lives,” reports Iris, “the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.” The movie omits the next line: “Suffering is what brings us toward happiness.”


If you think this is the sweet story you saw in the movie with Robert Redford, complete with the overdramatic happy ending, you are in for a shock. In this dark tale, Roy Hobbs' baseball career is cut short by a crazed fan. Years later he has a second chance and easily shoots to the top of the majors with his skills. Along the way, Hobbs falls for the manager's niece, Memo, who is still in love with Hobbs' now deceased team rival, Bump Bailey; has a romantic fling with the past-her-prime fan Iris Lemon; and is enticed to throw the last game of the season by the owner of his team, the Judge, and the owner's friend, bookie Gus Sands. Hobbs has a huge chip on his shoulder, and the reader waits to see if he can overcome this to become the big hero of the story and redeem himself. Loaded with great characters and some events based in reality, the rich storytelling that showcases Hobbs thoughts makes this a great read. Not a long book in pages, just 248, there's much bubbling beneath the surface for the reader to mull over.


This book should be taught as a staple of contemporary fiction, as a sort of companion piece and counterpoint of (or would it be validation of?) The Great Gatsby. It is a truly impressive and imminently readable book, although it has all the trappings of a Literary Novel. What's nice about this book, just like Gatsby, is that the function of all those elements of modern storytelling, i.e., literary allusions and existential metaphors, doesn't actually supplant the action of the story. The plot is rather simple but elegant to the point of genius - Hemingway eat your heart out, if only he were ever able to put together a story as concise and charged as The Natural. It is one of the only fairly long novels I've read that travels like a short story (hence the Hemingway reference). It goes a lot of places you recognize without falling prey to being boring or presenting itself as a cipher; everything makes good common sense, even when it doesn't make any sense at all. I really liked this story. A lot.

Michael Brockley

What is there to say about Bernard Malamud's THE NATURAL? Scenes and images from the movie are sprinkled throughout the novel but this is a darker, more disturbing story about a man with unlimited prospects whose path to baseball immortality is thwarted before it ever began. The man who emerges in the dugout of the New York Knights twenty years later is a man obsessed with smashing records and satisfying his gustatory and carnal appetites. Roy Hobbes inhabits a world of baseball noir which shares its rugged landscape with baseball lore: the Ruthian called shot (which fails), the ball player shot by an obsessed woman, a tip of the hat to the Dodger fan with the cowbell and the iconic exploding clock. But this setting is patrolled by dark cars that follow the hero as he pursues his infatuation with a femme fatale. A Pittsburgh fan throws rocks at players and is, in turn, beaten until he cries by a NewYork stalwart. Malamud keeps the pace of the pennant race and the hero's demise gripping. And his use of verbs should be studied by those who long to infuse their prose with power. This is not a tale of redemption but of a driven man pursued by demons. A man who falls short with the game and the women that obsess him. A man who has a talent, a gift, but weaknesses as well. Pop Fisher, the manager of the Knights says, "...a whole lot of people are like him, and for one reason or the other their lives will go the same day all the time, without them getting what they want, no matter what. I am one." And this. The last quote in the book was born of baseball's greatest betrayal.

Scott Schneider

Movies are usually never as good as the book. The Natural is an exception. I saw the movie first and it is one of my favorites. Robert Redford is great (and great music by Randy Newman). It doesn't deviate from the book much. In the book though Hobbs is more of a doofus completely distracted by Memo until the end. It has a sad ending and I prefer the happier one in the movie. I can see why they changed it. You needed to believe again that Hobbs was going to make it and lead a happier life, something you can't see from the book ending. It was a good spring start-of-baseball-season read. The writing was great. Today would have been Malamud's 100th birthday, so happy birthday- your books are still a vital part of American literature.

Adam F.

For the most part the movie stayed true to the novel, but there are some subtle to major departures. The Glenn Close character is in the book, but doesn't have the same back story and connection to Roy that she did in the book. They do not end up together, though there is some hinting that they could end up together eventually (and they do appear to be having a baby together...).The biggest difference of course is that Roy decides to throw the game for The Judge, changes his mind before his final at bat of the game, but then strikes out anyway. While the character in the movie was mostly based on Ted Williams, the Roy Hobbs of the book seems to be based on a combination of Babe Ruth, Williams, and Shoeless Joe Jackson. They even throw in a "say it ain't so" line...They book is definitely more crude than the movie, and a bit more explicit than I would have expected from a movie written in the early '50s. Sadly, the removed the line about Hobbs being "the best goddamn hitter I ever saw", which is one of my favorites from the movie.


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 (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.) The titular Roy Hobbs has way too much control - fouling pitches where he wants them to go, consecutively.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.

Marianne Carney

"The Natural" was an exciting book to read. Right from the beginning the book really caught my attention. It tells the story of a boy around the age of nineteen, Roy Hobbs. He dreams about becoming a professional baseball player. When he tells a stranger he wants to be the best player in all of baseball, his life changes for the worst.In "The Natural" the author, Bernard Malamud adds a lot of details. He makes it feel like you're in the story along with Roy Hobbs. He makes you feel the same emotions the characters are feeling. The author does a good job of describing the conflict. The conflict is that Roy Hobbs has to fight to keep his dream alive. He has obstacles in his way. He is older and has to compete against the younger players and there are many distractions in his way.There were many themes in this story. One of the main ones that stuck out in my mind was to always follow your dreams. Beleive in your self and never give up. Another theme that I liked was thet sometimes in life you get second chances and if you do you should make the best of it. Sometimes in life things don't always go as planned, but if you get a second chance you should take advantage of it. I recommend this book because it talks about life and following your dreams, something we can all relate to.

Matt Rainson

I'm not generally a fan of sports books, so my expectations were low. But I have to say that, beginning to end, this book was (not an exaggeration) stunning. The ending alone (much different from the Hollywoodized version) is one of the most powerful I have ever read. The movie is great, but the book is even better.

Matthew Donoughe

The Natural by Bernard Malamud is a story of sports, survival, and love with wonderful imagery and well-developed characters. The main character, Roy Hobbs, is an aspiring professional baseball player with a powerful right arm and a hard-hitting baseball bat named Wonderboy. When Roy is only 19, he ventures to Chicago and sees a beautiful woman, Harriet Bird, on the train. When she lures Roy to her room later that night, Harriet shoots Roy after he claims he will be the best in the game. As the story progresses, Roy is seen trying to overcome the shot, even 15 years after the incident. He is taken aback by one of his teammates’ girlfriend, Memo, and tries to make a move despite her reserve. Roy becomes one of the best players in baseball and all of his teammates and fans adore him. His attempt to get his team to the World Series falls short, but he still is gracious for the second chance he was given.I would recommend this book to all sports fans, not just baseball fans. The great determination and survival instincts of Roy can be an example of for which all people hope to strive. Even though he was dealt an unlucky card, he still accomplished his dream of being “the best.” This novel also can be enjoyed by fans of love and romance. The side-story between Roy and Memo provides the perfect relief from the intense baseball games. Bernard Malamud tries to bring out the readers’ survival instincts, and in the process, gives the reader a warm and fuzzy feeling as he/she reads through Roy Hobbs’ accomplishments. Because of the tremendous connection between sports, survival, and love, I give this book a four out of five.


90% percent of the time the book is always superior to the movie. Not in this case. The screenplay is a better story than the book will ever be. Hollywood loves a happy ending and in the movie version they give us that. The Hero in his final at bat gives his team a National league Pennant with a lights out home run and all ends well.In the book Roy Hobbs is not a humble guy, nor a real hero to be admired, in fact the opposite. In real life we see men fail more times than they succeed on and off the field in professional sports today. Personally I don’t like a story that always ends with rainbows, puppy dogs and happily ever after but in this case since I love the movie so much I wish now I hadn’t picked up the book.The Hobbs from the movie was a much more likable guy and one you could sympathize with and root for but not in the book. My image of Roy Hobbs is now forever tainted and he falls into the category of the ordinary instead of the extraordinary. Hobbs story is one we read about almost daily and dismiss as just another dumb jock that only cares about his self interest instead of the team and the game. Skip the book watch the movie.

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