If your favorite movie of all time is The Natural, this may not be the book for you. The movie is only loosely based on the book, which is to say it’s pretty much completely different. You have been warned.
This is the second time I’ve read The Natural. The first time, I completely hated it. Obviously, I was expecting it to be very much like the movie. The Natural is one of my favorite movies, and I was hoping the book would be similar with more detail, etc. I spent the first reading comparing how different the book was to the movie and completely missing the point. That was a couple of years ago.
My second reading went very differently. Since I knew the book was going to be different, I approached it as an entirely separate endeavor. The Natural, written in the 1950s, is almost a backlash against the sort of sports writing for young boys that was popular at the time. Even now, it’s not uncommon to find sports novels where the hero always wins, but learns a lesson in the process. (See The Only Game, One-Handed Catch, or any youth-oriented book by Cal Ripken for a modern day example. My younger son eats these up.)
Not only does our hero, Roy Hobbs, not win in the end, he doesn’t learn a damn thing in the process. Malamud is so intent on you understanding this, he hits you over the head with it in the end: “I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again.” In fact, on the few rare occasions Roy tries to do “the right thing,” he fails rather spectacularly. Kevin Baker sums it up rather nicely in the introduction when he describes Roy Hobbs as “the mirror image of Willy Loman.”
After my second reading, I would definitely recommend The Natural to anyone that is not pre-disposed to the movie. It’s an excellent literary work, and really deserving of a good read. If you have the chance to pick it up, and are willing to look past the flaws of the main character, I think you’ll really enjoy it.