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Friday, March 13, 2015

Let Me Be Frank With You by RIchard Ford

I have loved Frank Bascombe for a very long tie, going back to his emergence in The Sportswriter in 1986.  He is back, at age 68: retired but not retiring. These four linked novellas show that retirement is no cake walk. Frank is on his second wife, and his ex-wife has buried her third husband.  The quality of those relationships is adroitly depicted.  Frank and Anne share children but she leaves him cold.

Hurricane Sandy is the calamity that is a constant thread through the novellas. Happily for Frank, it has done no serious damage in suburban Haddam and he is relieved to have moved house, in the nick of time, from the battered coast. Frank’s second wife, Sally, is mainly absent because she is grief counseling survivors (the more one dwells on this, the funnier her absenteeism from the marital narrative seems). Frank, an ex-realtor, goes out to view his old beach front house with it's current owner, who seems to somehow blame Frank for his loss, and Frank shoulders that burden in a way that lets you know that he is at core a very good guy.

Frank is not the captain of his ship, and neither are we the reader.  In Ford’s fiction, we are helpless figures in our habitats. In the most extreme example, an unknown black woman turns up uninvited, tells Frank she used to live in his house and leaves him with a devastating, unsolicited, indigestible slice of her family history. What one realizes is this: Frank is never anywhere absolutely of his own volition.  Chances, random encounters, hitches set Frank helplessly in motion and, in consequence, the book’s atmosphere is only just the right side of ruefulness. It is a narrative ruled by comic passivity that rings so true.  We are not in control, and the grace with which Frank accepts that fate is inspirational in a very low key way.

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