Ford reinvents Bascombe in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In four richly luminous narratives, Bascombe attempts to reconcile, interpret and console a world undone by calamity. It is a moving and wondrous and extremely funny odyssey through the America people live in at this moment.
For those who have followed Frank Bascombe from The Sportswriter, through Independence Day and on to The Lay of the Land, there was always one more holiday looming. The earlier novels took place, over the course of Frank’s life, at Easter, July 4th, and Thanksgiving. So it will come as no surprise that the four linked novellas, or long short stories, here mark the the last few weeks leading up to Christmas. Frank is now 68, retired, living once again in Haddam with his second wife, Sally. It is the aftermath of hurricane Sandy and the destruction that followed in its wake has peeled back the skin of The Shore. Vast amounts of real estate are destroyed, including Frank and Sally’s old house (they sold up and moved inland 8 years previous). The survivors, one way or another, are receiving grief counselling. And maybe all of us, including Frank though he denies it, are in such need. Endings are in evidence. Indeed, as Frank notes, “that things end is often the most interesting thing about them.” Frank’s end is still being postponed, though death surrounds him, suffusing even the house in which he and Sally live (due to a horrific scene that occurred there 30 years earlier), placing its determinate finger on Frank’s first wife, Ann, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and rattling its last rasp in the form of Eddie “Ole Olive” Medley, a former friend of Frank’s from the years shortly after his divorce. Only the reassuring presence of Ezekiel Lewis and those few good words of Christmas cheer and fellowship can stem the tide. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is enough.
Ford’s Bascombe has moved on from his Permanent Period to the Next Level, which is characterized as much by letting go (of friends, real estate, cares and concerns) as by Frank’s identification with his Default Self. But of course Frank can never really hold to his stated intentions. Perhaps his true essence just keeps seeping through, as Ann might say, or maybe it is just hard for someone without an essence, as Frank would claim, to hold on to things, especially things as insubstantial themselves as intentions.
It might sound odd to describe Ford’s return to Frank Bascombe as a breath of fresh air. But fresh is exactly how this feels. A few good words, indeed. Highly recommended.
There's also the habit Ford has of making Frank tell us things more than once. It doesn't always come off as a trope, as a nod to people getting older and forgetting what they've said and to whom. At times it seems as though Ford has forgotten what he'd written already just a few pages before, or as though a bad editing job has been done on the book. Some passages read like plot development notes that Ford forgot to delete.
But still, I like Frank and, despite its minor faults and awkwardnesses, the slight feeling of disappointment it gave me for not living up to my expectation, the book is still an engaging read.
As minds tend to do, his mind constantly wanders and so, even if involved in one thing, off we go with his wandering mind to another. He has so shortage of opinions, memories and pontifications. Though since these were after hurricane Sandy, it was heartbreaking reading about all the destruction to property and coast.
So many of these lines were humorous, this man is funny and so are his thoughts. But, at times it got tiresome, seriously I don't even find my mind wanderings all that interesting. Well interesting to me maybe, but not to others who have not been there or done or saw that. So that became my problem, loving many of his comments, as I posted them, but getting overloaded with anothers thoughts. Still well worth the read for all the amusing bits, just don't expect a straightforward or on task story.
ARC from publisher.
In the first story, he meets up with a former real estate client as they ponder the destruction of Hurricane Sandy and Frank's old house, which he sold to Arnie and which is now gone, baby, gone. In the second, Frank shows his own home to a former resident who has the most horrific of reasons to want to see those rooms again. The third finds Frank delivering a special orthopedic pillow to his ex-wife Ann at her "Carnage Hill" senior living apartment, and the final story has Frank paying a final deathbed visit to his old friend Eddie, who needs to unload one last secret onto his acquaintance.
Each of these stories is chock full of what we enjoy most about Richard Ford and his (maybe) doppelganger: the strongest honesty and wisdom about suburban life, with small doses of fear and self pity serving as the spice.
Live on, Richard Ford, live on.
Canada is the only other Richard Ford book I have read. I liked it very much. Let Me Be Frank With You is very different. It covers a short period in the life of sixty something year old Frank Bascombe. It's divided into four parts, each one could stand alone as a short story or novella.
Frank muses about his life, marriages, children, and acquaintances. He claims that in his retirement he doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do--then he proceeds to tell about four things he's doing that he really doesn't want to do. He has an uncomfortable meeting with a former associate whose house (which he bought from Frank) on the shore has been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. Next, he lets a woman who used to live in the house Frank now lives in enter the house for a "look around" and he listens to her story (which he really doesn't want to hear). Then he visits his ex-wife who is in a retirement home suffering from Parkinson's disease. In the final chapter/story he visits a dying man-a former acquaintance that Frank never really liked.
All this is related with humor and wisdom (or not) and there are some likeable characters, but not too many and I'm not sure Frank is one of them. It is a fun read, but I'm uncertain about reading more Frank Bascombe books. I do want to try one of Ford's short story collections. I waver between four and five stars on this one, perhaps because I liked Canada better.
What I liked most about LMBF was the author's awesome powers of observing and depicting contemporary American society and mores. The awful hurricane destruction of the New Jersey seaside was a wonderful setting for that, and Ford's observations about it bound the stories together into a cohesive whole.
In addition, Ford demonstrated well-observed, acute empathy for any number of not-very-nice characters -- a knack that was also evident in "Canada". In the final story in particular, I enjoyed and appreciated the author's masterful pacing, language, and powers of description as evidenced in Bascombe's driveway meeting with evangelist Fike Birdsong. Brief though it was, this delicious episode was well worth the investment of time and energy to read the book.
I finished the book simply to give the author more respect than he gave to me in the hope that at some point the story would legitimately prove me wrong and illustrate a good reason for the invective, illustrate the point that he was trying to prove, but instead it turned into a gratuitous political attack in the guise of a story about an angry, unpleasant, unfulfilled, 68 year old retired realtor. If he is an example of a liberal Democrat, it is not an attractive picture. He is selfish and self-centered. Under the guise of a book that seeks to address the unfairness of life and death, the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, failed marriages, the loss of a child, illness at the end of life, among other things, we have a diatribe condemning the Republican with such blatant insults and filthy language, that the book is definitely not worth reading, unless of course, you are a bleeding heart Liberal! Then by all means, read it and enjoy the trashing of those who don’t agree with you. While it is an immature way to deal with disagreements, it seems to be the common approach of many liberal authors. I didn’t ever think I would have to give a litmus test to the authors of prospective books, but now I may have to research their politics before I choose to read their books. Perhaps he is a liberal who falls at the feet of Obama, but not all his readers are of that ilk, and whether or not they are, it is improper for him to imply that those who disagree with his views are “asinine” or brown shirts or racists.
This is the third in a series and I have no desire to refresh my memory about the other two. I am truly sorry, I read this one. If the author wants to voice his political opinion he should run for office or write a non-fiction piece informing the reader of his intent.
If I wanted a book about political partisanship, I would have searched for one. He intentionally disparages the Tea Party, Mitt Romney, former President Bush, among others, while he lays wreaths at the feet of Obama. If it weren’t for the abject pandering to liberals and their views, there might have been some saving grace in the novel, but as it stands now, there was not. The book was dry with inappropriate comparisons of events and inappropriate moral equivalents. I failed to find the humor in it satisfactory or appealing, rather it was bleak.
The author used his pen to voice his political beliefs calling Governor Christie the candied yam and comparing members of the Tea Party to Brown Shirts, describing them as Jew hating, white lovers. If name-calling is the calling card of the Democrat, don’t count me among them and definitely save me from anymore of these disguised political treatises. This author owes many of his readers an apology.
"Life's a matter of gradual subtraction, aimed at a solider, more nearly perfect essence, after which all mentation goes and we had off to our own virtual Chillicothes."
"end of days time otherwise known as retirement..."
" Being 'older' makes you worry that you reek like a monkey's closet."
"the gramps shuffle being the unmasked final journey approach signal."
Amazon: "A brilliant new work that returns Richard Ford to the hallowed territory that sealed his reputation as an American master: the world of Frank Bascombe, and the landscape of his celebrated novels The Sportswriter, the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner winning Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land.
In his trio of world-acclaimed novels portraying the life of an entire American generation, Richard Ford has imagined one of the most indelible and widely discussed characters in modern literature, Frank Bascombe. Through Bascombe—protean, funny, profane, wise, often inappropriate—we’ve witnessed the aspirations, sorrows, longings, achievements and failings of an American life in the twilight of the twentieth century.
Now, in Let Me Be Frank with You, Ford reinvents Bascombe in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In four richly luminous narratives, Bascombe (and Ford) attempts to reconcile, interpret and console a world undone by calamity. It is a moving and wondrous and extremely funny odyssey through the America we live in at this moment. Ford is here again working with the maturity and brilliance of a writer at the absolute height of his powers."
Droll, bemused, hyper-observant, occasionally exasperating and punctuated by sighs of both resignation and contentment (often at the same time), Bascombe’s voice has offered a running commentary on the last four decades of, as he put it in “The Sportswriter,” “the normal applauseless life of us all."
Like Updike's Rabbit novels, Richard Ford has left us one of the defining characters in American Literature.
One of things I have most loved about Bascomb is his sense of humor, which is always engaged and always really dark and odd. I should have guessed from the cheesy-pun title of this book that Frank's sens of humor had grown flaccid. Mostly he sounds like Andy Rooney (not a compliment.) Most everything serves for him to vent his silly affluent baby boomer white guilt. Black folks are all salt of the earth, everyone who didn't vote for Obama is a buffoonish racist, a white person can't hold a conversation with a black person without Tourrette's like racist emissions. Oddly, for a book so desperately PC, there is one scene with a trans woman that is so offensive it is painful to read. He implies that a person has to be uncomfortable in her skin unless she has had bottom surgery. Its so jarring and pathetic.
Ford ties up some loose ends which is satisfying for those of us who have read the other three books, but unless you are a Frank Bascomb completist, there is not much reason to read this.
> Character, to me, is one more lie of history and the dramatic arts. In my view, we have only what we did yesterday, what we do today, and what we might still do. Plus, whatever we think about all of that. But nothing else—nothing hard or kernel-like.