My Rating: 5/10
The Natural was one of books I'm required to read for my AP Lang class this year. Don't start mistaking that I'm only giving this book a low rating because I had to read it for my course - I actually try to take an optimistic view point on all the books I have to read for class. (Of Mice and Men preceded The Natural, and it was one that I absolutely loved.) Now, that being said, I have to say that this book disappointed me immensely since I had pretty high hopes for it. In fact, I probably would have rated it lower had it not been for the discussions it had in class that made appreciate the mythological parallels and the point about society and human nature that Malamud was trying to make.
The protagonist of the story, Roy Hobbs, is a young man infatuated with baseball, determined to be the best player in history. Tragically, a psychopathic lady he meets on a train of the story shoots him in the stomach and he is struck down in the prime of his youth. This how the story begins - very promising. However, as I kept reading, I found that I hated Roy Hobbs. I understand that he was to be something of an anti-hero, but I've mentioned in previous reviews that I hate reading books in which I can't relate to the main character. In Roy's case, I found him to be chauvinistic and arrogant amongst a few other things. His expectation to be the greatest player in history is egomaniacal to say the very least, and his attraction to both Memo and Iris is shallow and quite stupid in my opinion.
The two main women in the story (other than Harriet, the woman who shoots him) are called Memo Paris and Iris Lemon. (First of all, what the hell is up with these names?) This story has many instances of non consensual sex, it made me wonder if this was a story about baseball or just a softcore pornography. Now, I'm not squicked easily. I'd just like to make that clear. But I just found it a bit ridiculous. Early on in the book, Roy meets Memo in her hotel room and they have sex. However, she's under the impression that he is somebody else. Rape? Borderline rape? Iris has already been raped before she even meets Roy.
Roy Hobbs treats most other characters like they are antagonists or just not worth his time. At times it even seems that he thinks of them more as objects. (It irritated me, for example, when he examines Iris and notes that she's heftier than he would have liked.) His holier-than-thou attitude really made me hate him. If he had perhaps showed a bit of humility, I might have warmed to him and his dream a bit more.
Other than the unlikeable main character, I found the writing itself rather drab. It's more like a narration of events than an actual story. It reads the way someone would read from a journal: "Woke up this morning, took a shower, went to school, etc, etc." I found my mind wandering off during a few particularly long paragraphs. There wasn't anything that struck me as particularly intriguing or suspenseful. Other than that, there were just a few scenes that seemed a bit too far fetched. Ripping the skin off the ball just because he promised his coach that he would? Hitting Iris in the audience with the ball dead on? Dying from running headlong into the side of a wall? I guess all of these things could be possible - I haven't done any extensive research - but they just seem ridiculous. And you'd have to be pretty dumb to achieve the last one.
As mentioned earlier, this book's only redeeming quality was probably the message it was trying to send, depressing as that message was.