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New Leaf July 2019 Discussion • The Natural by Bernard Malamud
#11  issybird 07-15-2019, 03:07 PM
Quote Catlady
What should Roy have learned from being shot, except maybe that the universe had dumped on him once again?
I'm not saying Roy should have learned anything from being shot other than sheer randomness, as you say. However, I think 15 years as a carnie, a roustabout, playing semi-pro ball and all the rest of it, should have taught him a lot about people and their motivations. "Blinded by lust" isn't a good excuse, ever.

And timing is everything. He had his chances in that last game, didn't take them, and by the time he changed his mind it was too late. So it goes; everyone can look back on opportunities lost through poor choices. Why should his redemptive arc have been completed? What's the more realistic outcome? I vastly preferred this one, because it spoke as the truth to me.
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#12  issybird 07-15-2019, 03:15 PM
Quote Bookworm_Girl
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.
For me, that was the strength of the ending. I'd have been disappointed if he'd scored the winning run. But again, with Malamud, the name is destiny; once Youngberry came in to replace Vogelman, the ending was obvious. Youth would beat out age.

And what's with Vogelman? I'm still thinking about names. Harriet Bird shot Roy; did Roy exorcise that when he caught and killed the canary? Was that why he was able to beat the Birdman?
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#13  Catlady 07-15-2019, 03:27 PM
Quote issybird
I'm not saying Roy should have learned anything from being shot other than sheer randomness, as you say. However, I think 15 years as a carnie, a roustabout, playing semi-pro ball and all the rest of it, should have taught him a lot about people and their motivations. "Blinded by lust" isn't a good excuse, ever.

And timing is everything. He had his chances in that last game, didn't take them, and by the time he changed his mind it was too late. So it goes; everyone can look back on opportunities lost through poor choices. Why should his redemptive arc have been completed? What's the more realistic outcome? I vastly preferred this one, because it spoke as the truth to me.
It may be truth, but this is fiction, and Malamud made the decision to give this story a lousy ending. He chose to crush Roy. It wasn't enough that he wouldn't be able to play baseball anymore; no, let's make it even worse. Let's humiliate him, wipe out his records, make people shun him. Was his crime so great, so unforgivable? Malumud couldn't give him the game-winning hit, couldn't let him triumph over the gamblers at least, couldn't let him have Iris? Malamud chose to take this character with all his hopes and dreams and destroy him totally. Why? What message does that send? Why did Malamud want to use baseball, a game of optimism and there's-always-tomorrow and wait-till-next-year to be so unbearably pessimistic?
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#14  Bookworm_Girl 07-15-2019, 04:19 PM
Quote issybird
For me, that was the strength of the ending. I'd have been disappointed if he'd scored the winning run. But again, with Malamud, the name is destiny; once Youngberry came in to replace Vogelman, the ending was obvious. Youth would beat out age.

And what's with Vogelman? I'm still thinking about names. Harriet Bird shot Roy; did Roy exorcise that when he caught and killed the canary? Was that why he was able to beat the Birdman?
I just like happier endings better. However, given the direction that he chose to take with Roy’s character, I do think that the ending was very well done. I thought the beginning was great, it started to sag in the middle, and the ending redeemed the book for me. It’s just not the ending I would have preferred for enjoyability, but I can appreciate the writing. If I were a teacher, then I think it would be a fun book to discuss with students.

The names were definitely significant. Since my library only had audio available, I can’t remember many of the smaller characters. Pop was a father figure and that’s basically his final destiny because they don’t win the pennant allowing him greater glory as a coach or redemption for his slump in his player years.
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#15  Victoria 07-15-2019, 05:34 PM
I don’t think Roy was a bad person. He did care about a number of people. But every card was stacked against him, and he just didn’t have any insight at all into what drove him. I didn’t see his drive as lust - I thought he was trying to fill a deep terrifying personal emptiness. And in his nightmares, he’s shown desperately trying to escape fate.

Malamud paints such a hopeless, treacherous, bleak world. The phrase about most people ‘living lives of quiet desperation’ kept playing in my head as I read it.

That said, I thought it was a very well written, powerful book. The language was so spare, yet the portraits were very well done. It did remind me a bit of The Grapes of Wrath. It was the author’s first book - I wonder if he was influenced by it at all.
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#16  Victoria 07-15-2019, 05:52 PM
Quote Catlady
Malamud chose to take this character with all his hopes and dreams and destroy him totally. Why? What message does that send? Why did Malamud want to use baseball, a game of optimism and there's-always-tomorrow and wait-till-next-year to be so unbearably pessimistic?
He did go to extraordinary lengths to fix the game against Roy. It felt contrived - sort of Deus ex machina, in reverse.

I don’t have any of my own insights as to why. But according to this Wiki article, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Natural, Malamud was drawing on several sources of mythology. So apparently the soul crushing, utterly destroying fate of Roy mirrored that of other mortals battling fate.
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#17  issybird 07-15-2019, 06:16 PM
Quote Catlady
Malamud chose to take this character with all his hopes and dreams and destroy him totally. Why? What message does that send? Why did Malamud want to use baseball, a game of optimism and there's-always-tomorrow and wait-till-next-year to be so unbearably pessimistic?
Why not? Not all stories can or should have happy endings, although I agree that this particular one was unreservedly bleak. And there's the flip side of baseball, too; the side that breaks your heart, that chews up players who never get to the big show or just barely edge into it to disappear without a memory.

I read a book about the minors a few years ago, by John Feinstein. Optimism, yes, but it frequently doesn't pay off.
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#18  issybird 07-15-2019, 06:20 PM
Quote Bookworm_Girl
I just like happier endings better. However, given the direction that he chose to take with Roy’s character, I do think that the ending was very well done. I thought the beginning was great, it started to sag in the middle, and the ending redeemed the book for me. It’s just not the ending I would have preferred for enjoyability, but I can appreciate the writing. If I were a teacher, then I think it would be a fun book to discuss with students.

The names were definitely significant. Since my library only had audio available, I can’t remember many of the smaller characters. Pop was a father figure and that’s basically his final destiny because they don’t win the pennant allowing him greater glory as a coach or redemption for his slump in his player years.
I find that unhappy endings tend to give me much more fodder for thought than happy ones; they stay with me longer.

As for the names, enough were obviously significant that I think they all have to be taken as such and I'm still trying to tease out the meaning of a few. What do people think about the name Memo? It's so very odd that it stands out, but I'm not entirely happy with any of my explanations. My most satisfying is that it was meant to serve as a warning to Roy, not to forget his dreadful first encounter, with Harriet.
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#19  issybird 07-15-2019, 06:26 PM
Quote Victoria
I don’t think Roy was a bad person. He did care about a number of people. But every card was stacked against him, and he just didn’t have any insight at all into what drove him. I didn’t see his drive as lust - I thought he was trying to fill a deep terrifying personal emptiness.
As exemplified by his gargantuan appetite! And his hospitalization for overeating was borrowed from a Babe Ruth incident.

Quote
It did remind me a bit of The Grapes of Wrath. It was the author’s first book - I wonder if he was influenced by it at all.
I like that comparison, too, but what are the odds that a book could be reminiscent of both The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath? You wouldn't think there'd be much overlap, but both comparisons work.

Malamud obviously borrowed heavily from baseball lore, even down to baseball lingo when describing games. (I admit it; I had to look up "bingle.") But for all that and other influences, I wouldn't describe the book as derivative.
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#20  Bookworm_Girl 07-15-2019, 07:04 PM
I thought the descriptions of baseball were great and the pacing was well done. Listening to the audiobook was reminiscent of radio broadcasts or perhaps envisioning a news reel with sports highlights before a movie in the old days.
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