September meeting – report

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Well, we finally finished “The Natural”. I’m sure we all heaved a sigh of relief, as well as felt a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

Below are the written reactions I received from some of our readers. Some others have posted their reactions as comments to this blog.

And here is my reaction.

It was most interesting to read this book with you. I enjoyed Malamud’s writing –

  • his way of bringing scenes vividly to life using the five senses (sights especially colours, sounds, touch, taste and smell);
  • his sense of humour, including his puns;
  • his realistic dialogue – Roy and the baseball players and the fans (and Max Mercy) all speak a rough language of the streets, frequently ungrammatical, using a lot of slang (especially baseball slang), sometimes vulgar; the language of the 1920s and 1930s;
  • his blending of dream and reality so that the reader isn’t sure sometimes whether Roy is really experiencing something or whether he is just dreaming it (e.g. the underwater scene with Iris, or when he is hypnotized);
  • his blending of true stories with fiction (Babe Ruth was known as a big eater; the bizarre shooting incident and subsequent comeback of Philadelphia Phillies player Eddie Waitkus; “Shoeless” Joe Jackson who, with seven other White Sox players were accused of accepting $5,000 each to throw the Series in 1919 (leaving the criminal court, Jackson is said to have been appealed to by a young boy who said, “Say it ain’t so, Joe”; this story may not be true, but it has passed into legend or urban myth);
  • and I liked the way he mixed in references to the Arthurian legend (“Knight” field, the team called “the Knights”, Pop’s sickness like that of the Fisher King, the rain and thunder signifying fertility, the dust and brown dry grass of the baseball field as the sick and diseased land (the Wasteland) of the Fisher King).
  • At first, I preferred the movie’s ending to the novel’s ending. It’s more satisfying, isn’t it? But I also came to appreciate Malamud’s ending to “The Natural”: the rather bitter ending carries more weight as a moral lesson. However, I am still ambivalent about it – the ending seems to me rather a surrender to “realism”, that attitude that says the people in a story should behave and talk like “real” people (i.e., not like heroes because there are no real heroes any more). And yet, the book’s ending is more in keeping with Roy’s character: he never really learns his lessons except the hard way. And the ending suggests he has learned something: he regrets his decision (he throws the money back at Judge), and perhaps (the story implies) he goes back to Iris and becomes a responsible father and husband. Would he have done that if he hadn’t been so foolish as to accidentally hit Iris with the baseball? Robert Redford’s character has much less self-doubt or headstrong foolishness.
  • My favourite line in the story (and movie) is when Roy practises batting for the first time with the Knights. Pop says, “All those years and you never played organized baseball?” Roy gives the right answer: “Well I sort of got sidetracked.” (See the clip at the top of this blog post.)

Trying to answer your questions about the book was entertaining – I was constantly surprised by the misunderstandings that occurred, and by the difficulties that arose due to the differences between Japanese and English-speaking culture, by the many cultural references in Malamud’s story which have no counterpart in Japanese culture, or which signify different things. For example, today we read of Roy’s “springlike thoughts”. My image or association for “springlike” is “hopeful, optimistic, forward-looking”, but yours were “warm, happy,” etc.

The mythological traditions behind “The Natural” I found fascinating, but they did not seem to excite much interest or curiosity amongst you, perhaps because of your unfamiliarity with the Arthurian legends.

I was (and am) more interested in your reactions and responses and difficulties with this text than the text itself!

Finally, when I started this reading group, I imagined that I would be a cultural resource, able to explain British or Western cultural references (e.g., the references to the Fisher King in “The Natural”); but then I ran the risk of playing the role of “teacher”, and suggesting that my interpretation is the “correct” one.

Now I am not so sure.

Everyone brings their own experience to a book or story and therefore their own unique interpretations. These reactions and interpretations are extremely rich and personal. If we accept that there is a “correct” interpretation, we tend to suppress our own reactions and accept that of “the expert”. This often results in a less personal, and less involving, experience, don’t you think?

Thanks again to all of you who showed up month after month, to read and discuss this novel.

Now, here are the other reader reactions:

Experiences of reading “The Natural”

  1. The more I went on reading this story, the more disappointed I became with Roy. The author raises readers’ hopes, implying Roy will succeed this time, and then drops us from the elevation. The usual sports story is as follows: after a hero strives a lot, he climbs a ladder of glory little by little and has a happy ending. And there are morals in the story. After reading we feel satisfaction.Whenever Roy is about to get success, an unexpected occurrence happens and he misses it. Why do they happen? Because this story is based on Holy Grail legend. Ordinary person can’t get it easily. It may be that when people approach the Holy Grail, it goes away from them, and keeps the same distance. Even if someone can get the Holy Grail, the moment he gets it, it may break or the person who gets it dies. The movie “ Indiana Jones” showed the Grail as something like that.An old knight of the Crusades has kept guarding the Holy Grail for more than seven hundred years at the place like the cave in another dimension. Indiana came there. The old knight asked “As I’m old, please take my place.” He might have thought Indiana is an ideal for a guardian. But the cave began to break. The old knight waved to Indiana running away from the cave. The Grail was something that even Indiana couldn’t reach. I remember this scene of the movie vividly.So the Holy Grail isn’t something we can see. But Roy runs after something we can see – ladies or fame, etc. The holy grail is something that can’t be seen and has eternal value for people, I think. For example it may be wisdom, love, happiness, health, religion, etc.
  2. I ‘d like to write some experiences that I remembered and they may have something to do with the places in this novel.
    1. New York, Chicago, Michigan
      Our traveling by Amtrak (The American National Railroad ). It was in 1993 when my husband retired from the company and my daughter was studying at MIT in Boston for a year. Our train started from Oakland in San Francisco (terminal station) to New York, and from New York to Boston traversing the American continent. At Chicago we stayed in the hotel near Lake Michigan. There are many beautiful buildings, skyscrapers and fine museums, etc in the city. I wonder where Roy, Pop, and Red stayed and walked around. Lake Michigan was very large and dark blue color.The view from the top of the Tiers Building was very wonderful and splendid. It is the highest building in Chicago and we can see all around the city and the lake. Speaking of the highest building, we climbed the WTC (World Trade center, Twin buildings, very sorry they were destroyed ) by elevator only 1 or 2 minutes to the top,120 floors (415 meters). We could see all around New York, the Brooklyn Bridge, the East river, the Hudson river, the Statue of Liberty far beyond and etc.Chicago station was very beautiful and famous for the marble stairs used the set of the movie, “The Untouchables”.

      When we approached Chicago station we were surprised to see many rail tracks like a web. Chicago station is the hub of the railways, too. Lots of trains to all over the America leave and arrive to and from various directions destinations. I imagined Roy’s train came up this line or that line.

    2. Yankee stadium, Old Sox stadium, Cape CodIn New York We just only Passed by the Yankee stadium driven by our American friend when he took us to Manhattan from his house in Bayside.In Boston I just only heard about the Red Sox stadium and didn’t visit.

      During our stay in Boston my daughter took us to Cape Cod by car. We went to the Race Point and saw the Sunset at the beach where many people came to see the Sunset. It was setting very large, very red and dramatically. Maybe Memo saw the sunset?

    3. The views through the window of the trainThe landscapes from AMtrak —— Canyons, the Rocky mountains, the Colorado river, vast plains, countryside, big city, Atlantic ocean, long freight trains, sunsets, sunrises—–were all wonderful and magnificent.
      Roy and the guys might see the same sceneries when they travel for baseball matches.
    4. The depiction about the train and tipsAmtrak was very huge and our compartment had a shower, toilet and mirror, and was very convenient. The lounge car had huge windows on both sides and a glass ceiling and it was taller than the other cars so we could see the scenery well and many passengers came to the lounge car to talk and relax.In the dining car the staff gave us breakfast, lunch and dinner in full course on tables covered with a beautiful white tablecloth. We talked to everyone at the same table; it was very friendly. There were no mysterious ladies like Harriet.
    5. Koshien StadiumIn 2006 we went to see the baseball game between Hanshin and Yakult. The stadium was full of people enjoying themselves and cheering their team, or some particular players. We cheered Hanshin with the Hanshin goods like megaphone and colorful balloon, and at the beginning of the seventh we Hanshin fans blew and launched the many colorful balloons together. They rose and rose swaying in the air. That sight was very beautiful and wonderful. I was sure it inspired the players. I don’t know whether a lady fan like Iris was standing or not. But I’m sure some lady who might cheer a particular player was standing and cheering like Iris. There might be a drama going on somewhere.
  3. As for myself, when I read the novels written in the original English, I can understand the total story approximately after checking some words, some phrases and grammar in the dictionary. But it takes a pretty long time. However, sometimes I cannot see well the meaning of some sentences (文章が与える感覚、感情、雰囲気、ニュアンス), though I try to make sense of them. Maybe it is difficult for me to understand their little nuances or shades of meaning unless I can often use English in my daily life. Eventually I get into a way of reading that I only chase the story’s scenario. It is OK. as well.I’ve read an article somewhere which said that one Japanese asked an American how he could learn to understand the little nuances. The American answered: Read often an easy English novel, for instance, “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway. Reading the relatively short sentences helps you understand the various feelings. So, aren’t there any novels written in British or American English like this?
  4. Everyone has their own destiny and fate , I think, and everyone has ‘ups and downs’ in their lives. The words that Iris said in part VI impressed me. For example, she told Roy that, ‘Experience makes good people better’ and ‘We have two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live with after that.’ As well as ‘Suffering is what brings us toward happiness, it teaches us to want the right things.’ Iris was a good match for Roy.Everyone experiences failure at some point in their lives. She cheered him up and made him feel strong again. She made him feel that he shouldn’t give up on the dream of being the best that he can be. I was taught by this novel, what is important about being human.This novel was very challenging, but I enjoyed it. It impressed me very deeply. But for a change, I’d like to try reading some short stories.
  5. I think Roy is tied to his glory as a star. When he was in a slump, he couldn’t accept the fact that he wasn’t a star any more. That’s his frustration.I had the same frustration. Since I quit being an ECC home tutor, I’d been wanting to be a teacher for a long time. I chose the career of teacher as a way to help other people.But now I have got over my frustration. I am content with volunteering as a staff member at a music therapy centre and an elementary school’s after-school classes.

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