Robert Redford played Roy Hobbs in the 1984 film version of Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel The Natural. The very dated edition of the novel that I borrowed from the library had Robert Redford on the cover. As I began reading, my imagination couldn’t help but make me think of Redford as Hobbs; however, as I continued reading, in my imagination, Redford morphed into Humphrey Bogart. The novel has a film noir feel with many morally ambiguous men, including Hobbs, himself, chasing after women whom I could easily imagine as Lauren Bacall.
As a thirty-five year-old rookie, Hobbs finally sees his dream of playing in the big leagues realized as he signs on with the Knights in Chicago. Hobbs is an enigmatic character and that mystery and vagueness only work sometimes. More often than not, I found myself in the role of Max Mercy, the reporter bent on finding out who Hobbs really is. Answers are very slim – to Mercy and the reader.
The atmosphere and time period are developed well by Malamud giving the reader an idea of a time when Ebbet’s Field was still standing and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. However, the atmosphere wasn’t enough for me to consider this a great novel. Perhaps in the realm of baseball novels, it was good, but I prefer W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe.