Independence day

by Richard Ford (Afterword)

Hardcover, 1995

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : A.A. Knopf, 1995.

Description

In this visionary sequel to The Sportswriter, Ford deepens his portrait of one of the most indelible characters in recent American fiction. In the aftermath of his divorce and the ruin of his career, Frank Bascombe now sells real estate, as he masters the high-wire act of "normalcy". But during the Fourth of July weekend, Frank is called into sudden, bewildering engagement with life.

User reviews

LibraryThing member otterley
A marvellous book - offering a particularly intriguing insight into the details of an American life for those who only see it on the news and in the movies. Through his protagonist Frank Bascombe, Ford digs deep into the psyche of a very individual middle town American, reaching resolution after some messy and difficult years, in an unexpected and challenging way. In the interim he takes us through estate agency and the nuances of location; root beer; bed and breakfasts; halls of fame and hotdog sales, via murder, serious injury, love and lust, parenthood and adolescence. As with life, nothing and everything happens at the same time...… (more)
LibraryThing member weird_O
[Independence Day] is the second of four Frank Bascombe novels written by Richard Ford. This one garnered the Pulitzer Prize for 1996.

The story takes place over the Fourth of July weekend, with flashbacks stretching that three-day time frame. In the seven-year interval since [The Sportswriter], when their son Ralph died of Reye's and Frank and his wife Ann divorced, Ann has remarried. With the two surviving Bascombe children, she's moved from Haddam, New Jersey to Deep River, Connecticut where her new husband, Charley O'Dell, is a successsful architect. Frank's gone into residential real estate sales. When his wife put her house on the market, Frank bought it and at the same time sold his to the Haddam Theological Seminary. In addition to his residence, he owns two rental houses, side-by-side, in a predominantly black neighborhood of Haddam, and an interest in a roadside root beer stand. He's got a girl-friend, Sally, who lives at the Jersey shore, but he seems ambivalent about her.

Frank begins his narrative:

{T}o anyone reasonable, my life will seem more or less normal-under-the-microscope, full of contingencies and incongruities none of us escapes and which do little harm in an existence that otherwise goes unnoticed.
This morning, however, I'm setting off on a weekend trip with my only son, which promises, unlike most of my seekings, to be starred by weighty life events. There is, in fact, an odd feeling of lasts to this excursion, as if some signal period in life—mine and his—is coming, if not to a full close, then at least toward some tight¬ening, transforming twist in the kaleidoscope, a change I'd be fool¬ish to take lightly and don't. (The impulse to read Self-Reliance is significant here, as is the holiday itself—my favorite secular one for being public and for its implicit goal of leaving us only as it found us: free.) All of this comes—in surfeit—near the anniversary of my divorce, a time when I routinely feel broody and insubstantial, and spend days puzzling over that summer seven years ago, when life swerved badly and I, somehow at a loss, failed to right its course.

Frank's relationship with his 15-year-old son, Paul, drives the plot. Paul's mother is concerned by his antipathy toward Charley, his menu of tics, and his behavior. Paul was caught shoplifting.

Two and a half months ago, just after tax time and six weeks before his school year ended in Deep River, he was arrested for shoplifting three boxes of 4X condoms ("Magnums") from a display-dispenser in the Finast down in Essex. His acts were surveilled by an "eye in the sky" camera hidden above the male hygiene products. And when a tiny though uniformed Vietnamese security person (a female) approached him just beyond the checkout, where as a diversionary tactic he'd bought a bottle of Grecian Formula, he bolted but was wrestled to the ground, whereupon he screamed that the woman was "a goddamned spick asshole," kicked her in the thigh, hit her in the mouth (conceivably by accident) and pulled out a fair amount of hair before she could apply a police stranglehold and with the help of a pharmacist and another customer get the cuffs on him. (His mother had him out in an hour.)

In response, Ann set up several sessions for Paul with a psychiatrist in New Haven. She sent him to a "an expensive health camp" where therapists and camp counselors observed him closely but discretely and wrote reports about him. Among their other observations, Frank writes, is that Paul is

intellectually beyond his years (language and reasoning skills off the Stanford charts) but was emotionally underdeveloped (closer to age twelve), which in their view posed "a problem." So that even though he acts and talks like a shrewd sophomore in the honors program at Beloit, full of sly jokes and double entendres (he has also recently shot up to 5' 8", with a new layer of quaky pudge all over), his feelings still get hurt in the manner of a child who knows much less about the world than a Girl Scout.

Frank chews this and other observations and opinions passed along by Ann. He mulls thoughts and opinions culled from daily telephone conversations with Paul.

In a way his "problem" is simple: he has become compelled to figure out life and how to live it far too early, long before he's seen a sufficient number of unfixable crises cruise past him like damaged boats and realized that fixing one in six is a damn good average and the rest you have to let go—a useful coping skill of the Existence Period.

The "Existence Period," by the bye, is Bascombe's term for, as he says, letting "matters go as they go." Throughout his narrative, Bascombe exposes his caution, his indecision, his reluctance to commit, to engage, yet also his need to be in control. He is, for now, he thinks, going through the motions, remaining aloof and disconnected. He's "existing."

To deal with Paul's teen-year crisis, Frank uses the holiday weekend to take a father-son road trip, from Connecticut to Springfield, MA to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame, then to Cooperstown, NY to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. The trip starts off well enough, but starts to unravel, then runs into catastrophe in Cooperstown.

When the novel was published two decades ago, Michiko Kakutani, then the New York Times's regular reviewer commented: "Although Frank's existential gloom and talent for self-pity can sometimes make him an irritating (not to mention long-winded) narrator, Mr. Ford expertly opens out his story to create a portrait of middle age and middle-class life that's every bit as resonant and evocative of America in the 1980's as John Updike's last Harry Angstrom novel, [Rabbit at Rest]."

Did I like [Independence Day]? Of course. Why go on at length if it stinks?
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LibraryThing member ricksmoss
Beginning with Lay of the Land, I'm reading the trilogy backwards. (Don't ask why.) I can't wait to see how it all started. Yes, as per other reviewers, Ford is excruciatingly, obsessively self-reflexive and I love it. I luxuriate in all the particulars; in his harrowingly accurate insights into middle age.The man can take four pages to decide to ring a doorbell. He writes the way we'd think if we allowed ourselves the time. Independence Day is so chock full of mundane wonders, I couldn't care less if nothing much transpires. When so many are "showing, not telling," Ford -- perhaps as well as anyone since Bellow -- is telling you everything you could possibly never want to know. Highly recommended, but only if you can relax with it, slurp up all the details and go back at it with a bit of bread to wipe up the last drops.… (more)
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
I'll be the first to admit I had a hard time finishing this book. The story seemed incredibly drawn out, and the characters weren't all that engaging. For me, while I could appreciate the story and the writing, I simply couldn't help coming back to the fact that, in the end, I simply didn't care. I could have just as easily put the book down for months as for hours or days, and finishing quickly became a chore instead of a pleasure.… (more)
LibraryThing member mensheviklibrarian
Excellent. Ford has a ear for the way white, middle aged men think and feel. But this is also a deeply philosophical novel that touches on some eternal themes (happiness, death, the meaning of life). There are some beautiful, stand alone passages and some very funny, satirical set pieces. A true tour de force.
LibraryThing member crazyeye
A visionary account of American life--and the long-awaited sequel to one of the most celebrated novels of the past decade--Independence Day reveals a man and our country with unflinching comedy and the specter of hope and even permanence, all of which Richard Ford evokes with keen intelligence, perfect emotional pitch, and a voice invested with absolute authority.… (more)
LibraryThing member jane27
read this a while ago - and will do so again I think, and have the new one. Also recently read a bundle of short stoies - bleaksville!!!!
but wonderful.
LibraryThing member zojo
Second time I've read this - first time was as soon as I got it. Enjoyedit more the second time I think. It's quite a long read but he fits so much into a few short days and I'd love to know what happened next!
LibraryThing member John
The book won the Pulitzer Prize, and is Ford's sixth novel according to the blurb at the back, although this is the first I have heard of him. I enjoyed it, but it is a book that I admired more than I really liked. It follows the life and loves and ups and downs of Frank Bascombe, divorced, 40-ish, failed writer, real estate agent, trying to get his life in order and perspective including the relationship with his ex-wife, his children in particular his son, and his girlfriend (should he make the new commitment). Through Frank's eyes and ruminations, we are treated to numerous discourses on life and society in the USA in the 1990s, particularly what Frank defines as his Existence Period which sounds very much like the Existential Angst of the 1960s. Real estate and dealing with prospective buyers (one couple in particular) becomes a prism for interpreting life. Ford is exceptionally good at mining the combinations and permutations of any given moment in human discourse, or relationships more generally. If Ishiguro explores layers of human relationships like peeling an onion by going deeper and deeper where new meanings and interpretations coming to the fore, Ford is more like the sensitive and omnipotent observer guiding us through and explicating a maze of connecting thoughts and tunnels. What in the end is the message of Frank's life? Perhaps nothing more than the importance of honesty and openness in relationships, acceptance of others for what they are rather than what we want them to be, recognition that others have equally valid interpretations of life, and the need, ultimately, to get on with life, take the commitment and the responsibility, and don't try to analyze every angle and every contingency to death.… (more)
LibraryThing member Niecierpek
It is of the most American novels I have ever read in my life, and incredibly good at it, especially at describing small town America. I loved it that way, even though it made it a bit tedious for me from time to time- I don’t know a thing about baseball, for example, and am not really interested in basketball either. I felt like I was on one of my real life road trips across the States, met real small town people and overheard real conversations. They were so very real, so typical, and the exchanges so well observed and overheard that it all made me chuckle from time to time. It had quite a few interesting comments on writing, and life in general.
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LibraryThing member smerus
The best of this trilogy
LibraryThing member mydomino1978
This book seems to be about how a boring man spends his 4th of July weekend, in every boring detail. I don't know how this won a Pulitzer, as this is the worst book I have read in a very long time. It was 400 pages of a minute by minute (practically) account of nothing and his incredibly boring thoughts behind the nothingness. Right up there in worst books ever read.… (more)
LibraryThing member gwendolyndawson
The second of a trilogy--the story of Frank Bascomb continues, this time during his "Existence Period." The book takes place over the 4th of July holiday weekend as Frank takes a road trip with his troubled son Paul. Frank's new "lady friend" Sally Caldwell is introduced with no real idea where the relationship will go. Frank continues to try to deal with his divorce from Ann, after seven long years and Ann's remarriage. This book isn't as good as the first in the trilogy--The Sportswriter--because it seems to be in a holding pattern or merely a precursor to a strong finish to the trilogy.… (more)
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
I finally read this Pulitzer prize winner. I really liked the ruminative writing, the calm attention to setting all aspects of a scene, interiorly and exteriorly. I read it slowly and with interest till about the last 50 pages, when I finally got a little tired of noting really happening.
LibraryThing member piefuchs
The real time musings for a weekend in the life of a middle age realtor during his self proclaimed "existence period". The writing is beautiful; the main character is remarkably well developed - yet the highlights of the book are the short, almost throw away, tidbits on the human condition. His comments on real estate, on working, on parenting, on loving capture the essence and absurdity of life. There are two more books centered on Frank Bascombe - they are moving to the top of my TBR pile.… (more)
LibraryThing member WildMaggie
A work of ideas and characters with little plot action. The dialog is stilted and weighed down with subtext. The narrator's internal dialog chews the same meatless bones over and over. It won a prestigious award and reads like it.
LibraryThing member grheault
A depressed REALTOR describes a modern, old roots New England town -- eerily similar to my own. Frank, a lost, self-absorbed, white guy going through the motions of life, walks us through three days on a holiday weekend. Independence Day is a very good book technically, in that it conveys a slice of life. I do get it. I feel it, a vapid suburban existence with all the trappings of 'success" but none of the soul. I get it, yes, thank you for reproducing it with words - wow that's craft, art, whatever. But I don't want it.

I want mystery and comedy, characters who transcend or who succumb to their problems both profound and trivial, rather than mire in them. I am interested in stories of true desperation and struggle, and not in the whining of a white guy living a straitened life, whose moment of passion arrives during his son’s medical emergency – a hit to the eye by a fast pitch baseball machine in a batting cage. Oh god. Even that is not a crisis of major proportions, though it become so in this book.

Depression sucks, and Frank is depressed, and thus a pain in the ass to be around. He has more than the rest of the world -- a roof over his head, lots of clean, cheap water, heat, electricity; kids he COULD love, talents he COULD use, a stable society in which he CAN do whatever the hell he pleases without fear of prison, torture, harassment. Depression is a waste of time, and so, no matter how good this book might be technically, I dumped Frank as a depressed fiction who I don't need or want in my life. No time to waste on Frank, sorry.

I don't accept that Frank represents suburban life or that Independence day is an accurate social portrait. To me, Frank represents Frank. And if he is more common than I believe it should be no wonder that religion has had such a revival; religion has feeling, and passion and depth compared to this guy's desperate, robotic, salesman success formulas. To me he is Willy Loman without the grave sin, without the passion. He is neither Everyman, nor a "typical" suburban guy.
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
Frank Bascombe has entered his Existence Period. It’s that time in his life when he is unconnected to those around him, cut off from his ex-wife and two children who have decamped to Deep River, uncommitted to the current woman he is seeing, and fundamentally distant from himself. He tools around Haddam, New Jersey, in his large automobile, encased in a kind of protective shell, observing, noting, scoping out the particulars of properties he may be in line to shift in his new career as a realtor, idling at the curb and in his own life. But the Existence Period is unstable, bound to collapse at the first sign of real emotion, whether that be despair or hope in the face of tragedy. And tragedy is definitely lurking. Everywhere.

A momentous Fourth of July weekend descends into a nightmarish world of crazed house purchasers, senseless murder, self harm and mutilation, and the constant threat of violence meted out by others or oneself (if one’s impulses are given free rein), which is met by vigilance in the form of patrolling police, private security, metal bars on domestic windows, handguns, or mace. Or it is allowed to overwhelm one, washing through one’s life like a purging torrent. And there is little doubt that Frank, loquaciously professing platitudes and realtor buzz to stoke up the confidence of himself and his clients, is not up to the challenges that he is about to face. Little wonder that it seems highly likely that his Existence Period is about to come crashing to a close.

Once again Richard Ford’s writing is a marvel of density and light. He effortlessly draws the reader into claustrophobic inducing proximity to Frank’s mutable conscience and visceral encounter with his environment. Much of what we encounter here is remembered experience—a lot of ground has been covered between the end of The Sportswriter and the time of Independence Day. But how much of that reported experience is dependable? Frank is such a cocktail of conflicted emotions and aspirations overlaid with jaw-dropping rationalizations. A reader can’t help but begin to feel sorry for him (even if he isn’t especially likeable). You begin rooting for him to break the surface of his supposedly placid Existence Period even if doing so may destroy him.

And break through he does, though not in any way he would have planned or wished. And change does look set to come to Deep River and to Haddam. Crazed homebuyers transform into peaceable renters. The literally barking mad are rendered merely speechless. And Frank looks hopefully toward his next period, which may, he tells himself, be his Permanent Period.

Riveting reading. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
Interesting enough, it was a holiday weekend, an Easter in fact, which delineated this rather regal reading. I read most of this in Indianapolis while working. It was a quiet cafe which I recall as sullen. I am not sure as the reasons for.
LibraryThing member ljhliesl
The book is set in summer of 1988 but its 44-year-old narrator refers to "negro" neighborhoods and "Negros" and it makes me itch.

Also the current owner of a house he's trying to sell is named "Houlihan."

It's disconcerting.

I'm almost done. Ford writes of the same everyday foibles that Russo writes of but with none of Russo's charm. Frank Bascombe is more like Rabbit Angstrom than Sully or even William Henry Deveraux Jr. And thus, eh.
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LibraryThing member brendanus
Independence Day is a pastoral meditation on a man reaching middle age and assessing his place in life and the greater world. Although the reader has to be ready fand accepting of the experience.
LibraryThing member grheault
A depressed REALTOR describes a modern, old roots New England town -- eerily similar to my own. Frank, a lost, self-absorbed, white guy going through the motions of life, walks us through three days on a holiday weekend. Independence Day is a very good book technically, in that it conveys a slice of life. I do get it. I feel it, a vapid suburban existence with all the trappings of 'success" but none of the soul. I get it, yes, thank you for reproducing it with words - wow that's craft, art, whatever. But I don't want it.

I want mystery and comedy, characters who transcend or who succumb to their problems both profound and trivial, rather than mire in them. I am interested in stories of true desperation and struggle, and not in the whining of a white guy living a straitened life, whose moment of passion arrives during his son’s medical emergency – a hit to the eye by a fast pitch baseball machine in a batting cage. Oh god. Even that is not a crisis of major proportions, though it become so in this book.

Depression sucks, and Frank is depressed, and thus a pain in the ass to be around. He has more than the rest of the world -- a roof over his head, lots of clean, cheap water, heat, electricity; kids he COULD love, talents he COULD use, a stable society in which he CAN do whatever the hell he pleases without fear of prison, torture, harassment. Depression is a waste of time, and so, no matter how good this book might be technically, I dumped Frank as a depressed fiction who I don't need or want in my life. No time to waste on Frank, sorry.

I don't accept that Frank represents suburban life or that Independence day is an accurate social portrait. To me, Frank represents Frank. And if he is more common than I believe it should be no wonder that religion has had such a revival; religion has feeling, and passion and depth compared to this guy's desperate, robotic, salesman success formulas. To me he is Willy Loman without the grave sin, without the passion. He is neither Everyman, nor a "typical" suburban guy.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Salmondaze
Frank Bascombe is a palooka writer out of Haddam, New Jersey who takes his son on a trip to the baseball hall of fame for the Fourth Of July. Although hyper observant he is wrong about his situation about as often as Jake Gittes from Chinatown is. He's also a first rate loser, but none of these issues really comes up in the guileless English prose that sets out this tale. He may not be special. He may not even be likable (I don't know if I'd want him as a friend), but he is a celebration of the average and the everyday. In that sense he stands for something.

This novel, as opposed to its prequel, The Sportswriter, is about the Existence Period for Mr. Bascombe. He has moved on from sportswriting to realty with a little landlordship and proprietorship. I'm glad to see he's moved forward in some oblique fashion and he's willing to refer to his ex-wife by her proper name now. Her name is Ann, by the way. She's remarried now and Frank predictably doesn't like her new spouse. He also doesn't like his son much, Paul, who is tackling the "unbearable bastard" phase of his teen years.

Frank Bascombe appropriately surrounds himself with unlikable people, though they're unlikable in different ways. There's the hotheads McLeods, pussyfooting Joe Markham, and shotgun toting fool Karl Bemish. Ann's new husband, Charley O'Dell, is likable and actually appropriately disliked by Frank. Don't think Frank doesn't have a squeeze of his own, either. Sally Caldwell is his girlfriend and he, of course, starts to wonder if he wants her or wants his wife. He leans toward her but he's too indecisive to move forward. Hence Existence Period. I wouldn't trade places with Frank for a million bucks.

But the novel is well written. Frank's voice is so real you can actually hear him talk as you read, or at least I can. Having a character like that means you as a writer are definitely doing something right. Frank Bascombe may be a loser, this book may be arguably boring, but Richard Ford writes with incredible empathy and not quitting on this man deserves an award in itself.
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LibraryThing member MinaIsham
-- After first dozen or so pages Richard Ford's INDEPENDENCE DAY interested me. Frank Bascombe is an "ordinary" man living in New Jersey. He is a divorced father. He changes careers. He has moved two or three times & dated a few women. Bascombe is thoughtful, kind, & generous. His life hasn't been especially easy or difficult but Frank Bascombe is content. Initially I thought INDEPENDENCE DAY was another "typical" novel written by a white American male but this reader identifies with Bascombe (& Ford) because she has a modest home, an almost fulltime job, & enough food. Life is pretty wonderful. Now I know why INDEPENDENCE DAY was awarded a 1996 Pulitzer prize. --… (more)
LibraryThing member kvrfan
Frank Banscombe is a divorced, middle-aged realtor who presents a front that he has arrived at a certain peace in his life, pretty much having it "all together," but it's clear when he has any contact with those who mean anything to him--his girlfriend, his ex-wfie, his kids--he's really pretty clueless. The only ones he can feel confident with are those who are even more clueless than he is.

Frank may indeed be an archetype for a certain class of American male--carrying a deluded self-satisfaction--but I really tired of him. Something horrendous happens over 3/4 of the way into the novel which leaves the reader with an inkling that may take Frank on a new trajectory, but as this is only the second book in the Ford's "Banscombe trilogy," that will have to wait until the third book for the reader to find out.
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