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.