Bernard Malamud (YGtCTO Words #70)

The Natural

Novel written by Bernard Malamud

I suppose there is something of a spoiler in what I am about to describe, but it’s not much of one, so read on if you’re brave.

Here’s a strange association for you: Bernard Malamud and Monty Python. We were spoiled at my college by downtown cinemas within easy walking distance and with a very easy price. I believe it was a dollar. They packed us in like sardines, but we didn’t mind.

One week I saw Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Whether or not you have seen it, it little ruins it to tell you that it starts with a distinct short film that is quite epic. Then the short film and there is a brief pause before the rest of the movie carries on. The pause is long enough if you are sitting there for you to turn to any companions and wonder aloud whether the joke is that this new film is too short.

The following week, I saw The Natural. A little ways in, after a dramatic event, the screen fades to black and there is an extended pause. This felt longer than the one from the previous week. Perhaps the projectionist was having a little trouble changing a reel. Either way, I started to wonder if fade-outs were going to be a thing in movies forever more.

Despite the association for me, the two films have nothing else in common except for my great fondness for both.

A short time after seeing the movie, I got it into my head to read the book because I just didn’t get how it could be a novel. Usually, you hear people describing a favorite book as un-film-able, but I had to be one of those rare birds who thought the movie was un-prose-able.

Bernard Malamud

The book was great, of course.
And it reached me in a different fashion than the movie. There’s probably a lesson there for any expectation that a movie and a book will be the same experience (or any other transposition of a work of art- the best example being the lieder based on Michlangelo’s Pietà- perhaps, I kid).

Next, I read God’s Grace. Then, I plowed through some of Malamud’s short stories. All of it was consistently strange- rich with mysticism, odd characters, and bizarre situations. While I certainly saw a path in all of this for the types of work that I wanted to do, I also had to wonder what all of this said about the human condition.

Like many of Malamud’s contemporaries from Salinger and Roth through Marquez and Irving, you knew that you were reading an entertaining tale as well as something much heavier. Buried in all that humor and action, wisdom and truth emerged. For me, Malamud was more disturbing than the rest, even more so than Singer or Vonnegut. For me, Malamud showed us something tragic and beautiful that didn’t need to go anywhere. Basically, he made life palatable with all of its attendant joys and miseries, even before I had begun to live it.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 91 more to go.

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