Instead of a map you might be able to use Richard Ford’s ‘The Sportswriter’ to get around some parts of New Jersey, so topographically exact is his writing. Or maybe it’s all fiction? If so, it’s very convincing fiction indeed. He has a real feeling for place and precise location.
Frank Bascombe (also a major character in Ford’s later work) has something of the Holden Caulfield’s about him: the naivite, the endless introspection, the itchy desire to be always on the move, traits somewhat understandable in Salinger’s young adolescent but a little misplaced, it would seem, in a man of 39.
There are reasons. Frank is haunted by the death of his 12 year old son. It happened some years before the start of the novel but he is still haunted by it when we meet him. In his own words: ‘For a time – this was a period after Ralph died – I had no idea about it myself. and in fact thought I was onto something big – changing my life, moorings loosed, women, travel, marching to a different drummer. Though I was wrong.’ This loss is at the heart of the book and is achingly at the heart of the novel’s first scene where he and his ex-wife get together on a Good Friday morning at their son’s grave. The other great loss Frank has suffered is his marriage. As we read through the book it is impossible not to like Frank, but it’s also impossible not to see why his marriage broke up.
The book tells a rather sorrowful story, but is far from being a sorrowful book. It is in fact hilarious in parts, especially those parts where Frank finds himself in situations where he has to deal with people whom he has (unwittingly) upset. As well as this, Ford’s wry humour is a constant undercurrent, as is his wisdom pertaining to humans and the reasons why we do what we do to each other.
And the story is Frank’s story, as told by Frank himself in an almost Joycean ‘stream of consciousness’ way, but not quite as strict as with Joyce (thank God: I prefer some filtering). He is always ‘seeing around’ things and getting a good hold on how other people think, and especially as to what they think of him. The book benefits too from being set in a short time span (Good Friday, Easter Sunday) which allows a sharp Joycean forensic analysis of the events.
Certainly one of the best books I have ever re-read. If you like John Cheever (who gets a mention) and Raymond Carver, you will love this book. Absolutely recommended.
[I met Richard Ford when he gave a series of talks to the participants in a course I was doing in 2012. He is an amiable man with a strong sense of humour who wears his fame lightly. We all liked him very much.]