Friday, July 22, 2011

Independence Day by Richard Ford: A review

Frank Bascombe is no longer The Sportswriter. Independence Day takes place about seven years past the events of that book. Frank and his wife, Ann, divorced in the aftermath of the stresses caused by the death of their first son. Ann subsequently remarried and moved to Connecticut with their remaining two children. Frank bought her old house in Haddam, New Jersey, and, in selling their former family home, leveraged for himself a career in residential real estate. It's a job that he likes and is good at. He has made some wise investments and some would say he is sitting pretty. 

But Frank hasn't been able to fully move on with his life. He has a girlfriend but can't completely commit to her because he still sees himself with Ann. Complicating matters is their 15-year-old son who seems to be experiencing an emotional and psychological crisis which threatens prospects for his future. On an Independence Day weekend, Frank plans to take his son on an excursion to the Basketball Hall of Fame and then on to Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He hopes to bond with him and impart his wisdom and set him on the right course in life. An ambitious agenda for one weekend. It is, of course, doomed to failure. Or, maybe, not quite. 

In The Sportswriter, I found Frank Bascombe to be a not very appealing character, but he improves on further acquaintance. Richard Ford has written him as a sort of quintessential American, an Everyman searching for meaning in his life, searching for The Meaning of Life, haunted by intimations of mortality, fearful about his children's futures, wondering how everything got so complicated and where his life went off track. He is, in short, a character with whom I and most readers of a certain age can identify and empathize. 

Ford is a very talented writer and in Frank Bascombe, he has created a character whom he obviously knows very well. Frank may not be autobiographical exactly, but Ford thoroughly understands the place he came from, the various detours his life has taken, and why he is confused about the course on which he seems to be headed. He understands and he makes the reader understand and want to know more about how it all works out. Good thing there is a third book in this series so maybe we'll get to find out!

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