Hate Book Club: The Natural

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Hate Book Club is, of course, where Brian and I read books we think we’ll hate. This time we had to recommend a book we thought the other one would hate. For him, I chose Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop, the weirdest erotic fantasy novel I’ve ever read. I’m so excited to read his review of it!!

For me, Brian chose The Natural by Bernard Malamud. It didn’t take me long to see why he thought I would hate it. It’s hella boring and also all about baseball, America’s Most Boring Pastime.

Even the cover is boring

Even the cover is boring

As always, I have to start my review by thinking of three good things to say, and they are:
1) It was really easy to skim the descriptions of the games because they hardly factored into the “plot” at all so I wasn’t exposed to as much baseball as I feared
2) This book actually made me like baseball more, because even watching it is less boring than reading about it.
3) It may have been painful to read at the time, but, unlike other horrible books, it quickly left my system. I’m writing this 2 months after starting this review (Brian reads slow), and I haven’t really retained much about the plot. In fact:

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Luckily, I kept copious notes.

Here is the deal: Roy Hobbs is going to be the best baseball player ever, but before he can try out for the Cubs, a serial killer who specializes in murdering talented baseball players shoots him in the stomach. MANY YEARS LATER Roy is signed as a rookie to play on the Knights. Everyone makes fun of him because he’s so old, but when he uses his magical bat that he made himself (named “Wonderboy” because Bernard Malamud is imaginative), he is the best hitter ever so soon they shut up. All except Bump, the former best player on the team, who continually plays tricks on him. Like the time he randomly switched rooms with him for the night, causing his girlfriend Memo to sleep with Roy instead?? Hilarious.

Anyway, Bump runs into a wall and dies. Roy attempts to force himself on Memo repeatedly. He also meets a woman named Iris Lemon and goes on a weird date to the middle of nowhere with her where they swim in a lake and then build a fire like boyscouts. Iris confesses that she has an illegitimate child. He’s like “Well, you’re hot and clearly slutty, so let’s do this.” Then, in the middle of the sex:

But while he was in the middle of loving her she spoke: “I forgot to tell you I am a grandmother.”
He stopped. Holy Jesus.
Then she remembered something else and tried, in fright, to raise herself.
“Roy, are you–”
But he shoved her back and went on from where he had left off. (157)

Roy can’t get over that Iris is a grandmother, so he blows her off thereafter and continues pursuing Memo despite the fact that she doesn’t seem to like him. Then, a few day before THE BIG GAME, he has some kind of stomach attack and ends up in the hospital. The doctor is all “You should never play baseball again. You’re too old and it apparently makes your body explode.” But Roy just HAS to play in the BIG GAME. Memo arrives and explains that they can’t be together because he’s too old to make enough money at baseball to keep her in style:

“Maybe I am weak or spoiled, but I am the type who has to have somebody who can support her in a decent way. I’m sick of living like a slave. I got to have a house of my own, a maid to help me with the hard work, a decent car to shop with and a fur coat for winter time when it’s cold.” (193)

UNLESS he takes this deal that the team owner and the city’s biggest bookie have cooked up to make money. But can Roy really throw the big game??? It turns out, yes, although he has a change of heart near the end and starts trying for real real. Unfortunately, it’s too late and the Knights lose. Everyone is disappointed. Roy beats up the team owner, the bookie, and Memo and leaves a broken man.

Also, in the middle of the game he hits a ball into the stand that smashes Iris Lemon IN THE FACE. She dramatically reveals she’s pregnant with his child before the ambulance takes her away. He realizes TOO LATE that he doesn’t care about her past and that she is way less sketchy the Memo. BUT IS SHE? Apparently she is mainly attracted to Roy due to his resemblance to her rapist:

How like the one who jumped me in the park that night he looks, she thought, and to drive the thought away pressed his head deeper into her breasts, thinking, this will be different. (219)

On the other hand, this is Memo’s (and Bernard Malamud’s??) idea of the best way to sexily wait for your BF:

She was lying naked in bed, chewing a turkey drumstick as she looked at the pictures in a large scrapbook. (184)

Either way, Roy is a horrible person who doesn’t care about either of them. When he’s not trying to wheedle sex out of Memo in the sketchiest way possible:

“For Christ sakes, Memo, I am a grown guy and not a kid. When are you gonna be nice to me?”
“I am, Roy.”
“Not the way I want it.” (175)

Here he is trying to get over the fact that Iris is a grandmother. A HOT grandmother, but still.

To do her justice he concentrated on her good looks and the pleasures of her body but when her kid’s kid came to mind, despite grandma’s age of only thirty-three, that was asking too much and spoiled the appetizing part of her. (159)

Beside the terrible characters, the other horrible parts of this book included the vaguely dirty feeling Bernard Malamud’s attempts at writing gave me:

He felt a splurge of freedom at the view (3)

And the way everyone in this book is unreasonably obsessed with baseball:

“The ballplayers.”
“Oh, the ball–” Eddie clapped a hand to his mouth. “Are you one of them?”
“I hope to be.”
The porter bowed low. “My hero. Let me kiss your hand.” (5)

I guess this book was first published in 1952 when maybe baseball was a big deal and not just the acknowledged most boring sport in the entire world. It was a simpler time before the Internet, with simple past times. At least in this book I could skim the play-by-plays of Roy’s games, so it has that to be said for it. So in the end this book is slightly LESS boring than an actual baseball game, although I don’t know what kind of twisted deal-with-the-boring-devil would ever have you choosing between the two.

In the end, I would sum up my reaction to this book thusly:

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Don’t forget to read Brian’s review!

Previously: The Overton Window by Glenn Beck

3 responses to “Hate Book Club: The Natural”

  1. […] tasked Patricia with one of the worst novels I’ve ever read, The Natural by Bernard Malamud (here’s her review!!), while she saddled me with Daughter of the Blood, a fantasy novel by Anne Bishop. We’re not […]

  2. Brian says:

    I think it was also easy to skim the baseball parts because the author clearly hates baseball too.

    Ugh I forgot that Iris gets balled in the face! This really was a terrible novel.

  3. Mom Ladd says:

    This book was made into a movie. I believe it came out in the 90’s. Robert Redford played the main character. The movie changed the story a bit. You might want to see it to change your distaste for the book.

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