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?

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.


THE NATURAL. (1952). Bernard Malamud. *****.When I read this first novel by Malamud back in the late 1950s, I was blown away. On this second read, I was still mightily impressed. If you have not read any of Malamud’s works, this should be first on your list. It was immediately classified as a ‘baseball’ novel, and, indeed, it is set in the baseball world. The hero. a natural ball player, is cut short in his career by a woman he totally mis-read, and had to defer his entry into the sport for several years. His basic problem was that he had little understanding of the world and how it worked outside of a ballpark. He was particularly inept in his choice of women. To say that he was naïve would be an understatement. We do get to know our ball player very well, however, and soon learn that his simple beliefs in his forms of morality are etched on his soul. Don’t be put off by the simplicity of the story; it is artfully constructed. I did learn that the basic premise of the plot was based on a true incident involving a player from the Philadelphia Phillies in 1949. Highly recommended.


I listened to the audiobook version of this and enjoyed it, but kept fading in and out. Having previously read Malamud's _The Assistant_ in grad school and loved it, I was hoping to love this one just as much since it's "the" baseball book. I think that I would have had I actually read it. I seem to have trouble with the narrators for audiobooks. This particular narrator made all of the women sound like Blanche Devereaux from the Golden Girls. Still, a good book for anyone who knows that you can't *not* be romantic about baseball.

Rod Kackley

This book blew me away. And I am going to try to stay away from any hint of spoilers, even thought this book was written in 1952. I am sure you know that the movie of the same name with Robert Redford was based on this book. What I didn't know was that the book would be so different in tone and substance from the movie. I will leave it there.I loved the style of the books, And as a lifelong baseball fan, I really appreciated Malamud's love of the game.Character development was very good.Whenever I read a book that was used for a movie, after seeing the movie, I always see the actors' faces and hear their voices, instead of creating my own images and sounds from the book.That didn't happen this time, at least not after the first few pages.The basic plot is quite similar. But not completely similar and the ending...well, you have to read it to find out how this one ends.

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.

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.”

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.


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.


** spoiler alert ** I'll admit up front that part of my problem with The Natural is that the movie casts a long shadow. For those who encountered and fell in love with the book first, I can see why the movie would be absolutely infuriating. Major (and I mean MAJOR) differences in both Roy's character and the novel's plot--including a complete 180 on the climax--turn them into wholly different animals with little more than shared DNA: a talented kid, a tragic shooting, an old rookie, a struggling team, a girl named Memo. Reading the novel after my familiarity with the film felt like stepping into an alternate reality.But credit where credit is due, Malamud's world is as fully fleshed and full of iconography as anything in the film. It just also happens to be a darker, sadder place, full of disappointed heroes and missed opportunities. Roy Hobbes is a harder to character to like here than in the movies. He is both more Godlike in his prowess and more frail in his weaknesses, and thus somehow harder to connect to than a Sandy Koufax pitch. I wanted to like him, but I also wanted him to be better, and that's part of the genius of the story. As the novel progresses, we become like the boy Roy encounters on the final page, pleading "Say it ain't so, Roy," even as we see him stumble and fall to his knees. He may be a natural, Malamud tells us, but he is also fallible, and sometimes we, like Roy, wait too long to make up for past sins.Is this a Greek myth? A classic tragedy? A biblical allegory? It's all of those things, and it's the story of Shoeless Joe Jackson, and it's a crackling 30s noir, and its about America's fall from grace. It is whip-smart writing, full of the lingo of the baseball diamond and the chalk and dirt of legends. It's good. It really is. It's just . . .It's just that I love the movie, for all its cheese and schmaltz. Despite the facts that it goes for the syrupy sugar when the novel goes for the jugular. Despite the fact that it's clearly dumbing down the complexity of Malamud's novel. Despite the fact that it doesn't want to question our myth-making so much as codify it. Despite all that, I look back on the movie the same way that Redford and Levinson seem to be looking back on the golden age of baseball itself--with rose colored glasses that somehow seem able to forgive a lot of obvious flaws. It reminds me of being a kid, and of my brother, and of being filled with hope. And it reminds me of the present, and showing it to film students and seeing them jump when Harriet Bird fires that gun, and of getting a little misty-eyed when those lights get blown apart. So even if the novel came first, it feels a little like it's kicking at a piece of my personality that is good and optimistic and full of life. So I can respect the book, but at least for now, I can's say I love it. Icons and heroes fall--I know they do--and yet I don't have to love it when they do.Sorry, Judge, but I still believe in the goodness of man. I can respect the tragedy here. But I can't love it.

Andrew P.

The Natural by Bernard Malamud is not the typical sports hero novel. The protagonist, Roy Hobbs, a talented baseball player being scouted by the Chicago Cubs, hits rock bottom after being shot in the stomach, possibly ending his baseball career. Fifteen years later, Roy returns to the game and joins the fictional New York Knights. He slowly works his way to becoming the baseball player he used to be, but never quite gets there. Roy has conflicts with many people, including love interests and team management, but primarily he has conflicts with himself. He allows his pride to affect his success. Roy is a complex character - at times the reader will pull for him and at others the reader will want to scream at him for making dumb mistakes. Malamud’s writing is skillful. He uses clever symbolic names for other characters. For example, the player Bump Baily dies from a bump on the head, and sportswriter Max Mercy shows no mercy when writing stories. He weaves into the plot several allusions to baseball stories, including the conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series.The Natural is a sports-drama with a little humor. It uses the themes of romance, sports, success, failure, and tragedy. The novel has a great storyline, a sort of rags to riches to rags tale, much like that of the Steve Martin movie “The Jerk.” Above all, there is a lesson to be learned, one Roy realizes too late. As Iris Lemon tells him, “We have two lives, Roy, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.”I gave the book four stars because of its captivating storyline based on a sport I enjoy. I didn't give it the full five stars because the author tends to ramble sometimes, using long descriptive sentences that include several thoughts. Overall, it was well-written and interesting, and I highly recommend it.

Tim Beck

there are some movies that are adapted from books that simply can not compare to the written word (The Road comes to mind). there are also movie adaptions that are so different from the book that you wonder what was the same - other than the title (My Sister's Keeper comes to mind). then there are the rare few... those movie adaptations that are far better than the book ever was. The Natural is one of those few. i'll admit, while reading Bernard Malamud's written text found within The Natural, the voice of Roy Hobbs sounded distinctly like Robert Redford, while the voice of Pop and Red sounded a lot like Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth. i'll admit, the first half of the book was as intriguing as anything. a novel about baseball... what a delight! But the second half took odd turns that where anything but dramatic. Frankly, the movie had more drama and more of a climax than the book, and that left me disappointed.perhaps i'd feel different if i hadn't already seen the movie, but i doubt it. i'm o.k. with the fact that the endings of book and movie differ... it was the steps that took Roy Hobbs to that conclusion that were tiresome and lame. this is not Malamud's best text. he is a wordsmith. but to what avail?Skip this book. watch the film instead.

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.


Malamud's conclusion is certainly not a Hollywood ending which was at first somewhat disheartening even though I couldn't pinpoint what it was that I was supposed to appreciate in Roy's character. My two favorite moments in the book were when Eddie tosses the loaded dice over the roof of the depot because he didn't "crave any outside assistance in games of chance" and when Iris simply stands to show her support


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.

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