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New Leaf July 2019 Discussion • The Natural by Bernard Malamud
#1  issybird 07-01-2019, 08:07 AM
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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."
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#2  issybird 07-15-2019, 08:00 AM
Batter up!

It's time to discuss The Natural. What did we think of it?

I'll say, briefly, that I thought it was terrific. It succeeded on so many levels, as pure baseball novel, as a look at the immediate postwar zeitgeist, and most importantly as an examination of chances lost, poor choices and redemption missed, and just generally as an account of the sad lives of damaged and unlikable people.

It was not, however, the feel-good story of the movie! What an opportunity missed to say something meaningful.
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#3  bfisher 07-15-2019, 09:19 AM
The first thing that crossed my mind at the end was "mighty Casey has struck out"

For me, the book had a strong taste of Gatsby.
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#4  issybird 07-15-2019, 09:28 AM
Quote bfisher
The first thing that crossed my mind at the end was "mighty Casey has struck out"

For me, the book had a strong taste of Gatsby.
Good call! I was also reminded of the great film, On the Waterfront, which was a few years later. In one of the most famous film lines of all time, Terry Malloy is talking to his brother, Charlie, about the time Charlie told him to take a dive during a prizefight because he and his people had money on Terry's opponent:

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I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am
Roy's a bum and there will be no third act.
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#5  Catlady 07-15-2019, 11:17 AM
I was extremely disappointed in The Natural, mostly because of the ending. I read the book and saw the movie long ago, but the details of both had become quite hazy over time, and I'd forgotten how different they were; I prefer the story told in the movie.

Issybird mentioned On the Waterfront; the beauty of that film is that Terry gets to redeem himself. He's been a bum who sold out, but he gets his chance to be a hero. By contrast, Malamud first punishes his protagonist for little more than youthful hubris by destroying his dreams and nearly killing him. Then, when Roy has managed to get another chance, he crushes him again--even after Roy has had his epiphany. Where's the hope? Where's even a glimmer of a reason to try to be better?

I was thinking of The Man With the Golden Arm, another book-to-film with an altered ending (I've only seen the movie).
Spoiler Warning below






In the film, Frankie finally has some hope; in the book, Frankie commits suicide. This is why I keep avoiding reading the book; I don't want to suffer with Frankie all the way through, only to reach that kind of awful ending.
The ending of The Natural was a punch to the gut. I don't need or want a totally sappy, hearts-and-flowers ending when I read a novel, but I don't want to be left with hopelessness, even when the protagonist is flawed.
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#6  issybird 07-15-2019, 11:39 AM
Quote Catlady
I was extremely disappointed in The Natural, mostly because of the ending. I read the book and saw the movie long ago, but the details of both had become quite hazy over time, and I'd forgotten how different they were; I prefer the story told in the movie.

Issybird mentioned On the Waterfront; the beauty of that film is that Terry gets to redeem himself. He's been a bum who sold out, but he gets his chance to be a hero. By contrast, Malamud first punishes his protagonist for little more than youthful hubris by destroying his dreams and nearly killing him. Then, when Roy has managed to get another chance, he crushes him again--even after Roy has had his epiphany. Where's the hope? Where's even a glimmer of a reason to try to be better?
Roy had his second chance and blew it, and affirmed his poor choices at more than one stage.

Iris could have redeemed him after he met (and impregnated) her, but he rejected her in favor of Memo, and that after Memo had consistently revealed her true nature to him and Pop also had warned him. Moreover, in his final chance, he continued to hit those fouls at the dwarf instead of knocking one out of the park and it was only when the last one misfired and he knocked out Iris instead, that he had his ephiphany. By then, it was too late - but he'd had his chance.

I admit, I did laugh at Roy's thinking, "Christ, another one," when Iris stood up that last time. Roy is not a nice person, but he's certainly been damaged, and going back before he was gut-shot.
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#7  Catlady 07-15-2019, 11:54 AM
Quote issybird
Roy had his second chance and blew it, and affirmed his poor choices at more than one stage.

Iris could have redeemed him after he met (and impregnated) her, but he rejected her in favor of Memo, and that after Memo had consistently revealed her true nature to him and Pop also had warned him. Moreover, in his final chance, he continued to hit those fouls at the dwarf instead of knocking one out of the park and it was only when the last one misfired and he knocked out Iris instead, that he had his ephiphany. By then, it was too late - but he'd had his chance.

I admit, I did laugh at Roy's thinking, "Christ, another one," when Iris stood up that last time. Roy is not a nice person, but he's certainly been damaged, and going back before he was gut-shot.
Who says people should get only one chance at redemption? Roy had been stomped on by fate so many times, still was a fundamentally decent guy, and was destroyed after he tried belatedly to do the right thing. That's a pretty horrible message.

I just realized that Bump was destroyed when he tried to be a good player. Parallel?
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#8  issybird 07-15-2019, 01:22 PM
Quote Catlady
Who says people should get only one chance at redemption? Roy had been stomped on by fate so many times, still was a fundamentally decent guy, and was destroyed after he tried belatedly to do the right thing. That's a pretty horrible message.
Was he a fundamentally decent guy, though? He didn't like the fans, he didn't like the players, he treated Iris badly. I'm not saying a series of unfortunate events didn't go to making him distrustful, but Iris explicitly managed to make her own suffering redemptive. Roy should have learned something during his lean years, too.

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I just realized that Bump was destroyed when he tried to be a good player. Parallel?
Maybe it was destiny; he bumped into the wall. Clearly names are signifiers in Malamud's world.
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#9  Catlady 07-15-2019, 03:04 PM
Quote issybird
Was he a fundamentally decent guy, though? He didn't like the fans, he didn't like the players, he treated Iris badly. I'm not saying a series of unfortunate events didn't go to making him distrustful, but Iris explicitly managed to make her own suffering redemptive. Roy should have learned something during his lean years, too.
I think he was decent but damaged. He was angry and blinded by lust, but he cared about Pop; he cared about the little boy in the hospital. And when he found out about Iris's pregnancy, he cared enough to try to salvage his integrity.

What should Roy have learned from being shot, except maybe that the universe had dumped on him once again? All he was when he was shot was ambitious and cocky, like any kid; it seems understandable that when he got another chance to fulfill his dream after losing so many years, he was impatient, focused, and greedy. The people around him were a lot worse than he was, with less reason. Yet Roy is the scapegoat.
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#10  Bookworm_Girl 07-15-2019, 04:01 PM
He also cared about the scout in the first part of the book. I agree with Catlady. I would have preferred the happier ending. I didn’t like the hopelessness. I also think that Roy was decent but damaged. It’s the feeling that he had some decency and the potential to make the right decisions that makes the reader so disappointed when he can’t overcome his flaws.
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