Cynthia Ozick has a sterling reputation as a writer of fiction and essays. I can’t attest to this reputation as I’ve read none of her fiction and only a handful of her essays. But I believe she’s a good writer.
Two weeks ago, she wrote an essay about Bernard Malamud in the New York Times Book Review because the Library of America has published two volumes of a projected three-volume, complete-Malamud collection. It was a well-crafted essay, intelligent, respectful of Malamud who was a giant of American fiction.
Late in the essay, she mentioned “The Natural,” Malamud’s first published novel. It is a great great novel set in a mythical baseball world. In fact, it is a mythical novel. And although it is not only about baseball, or even mainly about baseball, it uses baseball for its framework. Got that?
In a footnote, Ozick proclaimed — bragged? — she never read The Natural because it’s about baseball. When I read the footnote two weeks ago, I raised an eyebrow.
Today, Artie Spander sent me a link to the e-edition of the article, and that made me think again about Ozick’s review. The e-article omits the footnote. So, I can’t quote the exact footnote and I apologize for that. But, believe me, Ozick has not read The Natural, although she’s had 62 years to get around to it — it was published in 1952. My paperback edition (Avon) is only 217 pages. Ozick could have read the book in a leisurely afternoon, gritting her teeth if she had to.
It seems snobby to me to reject reading an American classic because it involves baseball. Malamud didn’t feel baseball was beneath him. Philip Roth, John Updike, Ring Lardner, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mark Harris, George Plimpton, Jacques Barzun, to name a few, wrote about baseball. Didn’t feel the national pastime was beneath them.
The way she looked down at baseball makes Ozick seem kind of snooty tooty. Is that how she wants to come off?
In her New York Times essay she wrote, “The Natural stands tonally apart from Malamud’s other work.”
In what sense is The Natural tonally apart from Malamud’s other work? I mean, how could Ozick know since she’s never bothered to read The Natural?
This reading lapse on Ozick’s part is more than snobby. It’s irresponsible. Look, Malamud wrote three great novels — The Natural, The Assistant, The Fixer — and four or five of the greatest short stories in American Literature. Ozick is telling us she has not read one-third of Malamud’s best novels. That’s a big reading gap. Inexcusable in a reviewer. Couldn’t the Times have paid for someone who actually read the complete Malamud?
I believe Ozick would enjoy The Natural. And baseball is easy to get — nine innings, each team gets three outs per inning, nine guys on each side. A cinch.
Cynthia, if you ever want to read the book, I’ll gladly send you my copy.
Footnote with a footnote: Spander just emailed me Ozick’s footnote. Here goes:
“This reviewer has not read and is not likely ever to read The Natural, a baseball novel said to incorporate a mythical theme. Myth may be myth, but baseball is still baseball, so never mind.”