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Bascombe Is Back

Richard Ford’s feted Frank Bascombe trilogy is now, it seems, a tetralogy, with the release of Let Me Be Frank with You (Bloomsbury, £18.99), following The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995) and The Lay of The Land (2006). John Banville, in The Guardian (November 8th), writes:

The book comprises four longish sections, which might be considered as separate but related stories, or as the chapters of a relaxedly organised novel. Late style, in Ford, is loose-limbed, allusive, jokey in a rueful way, and mutedly elegiac. If his country is in deep trouble, Frank Bascombe too has his woes, the most engrossing though hardly the worst of which is the fact that he is getting old – the fact, indeed, that he is old. Also, he is in emotional trouble, as usual. Not big emotional trouble. In the past he suffered through bereavement, divorce, erotic entanglements of varying difficulty, and even, in one instance, a bar-room brawl; now he has reached a plateau of something like peace, though the air up here is shot through with flashes of lightning and a cold rain falls.

Ford’s authorial voice, not just in the Bascombe books but right through his work from Rock Springs to Canada, has been that of “a relaxed existentialist”, Banville writes.

He recognises the essentially contingent and slippery nature of our being here, and the necessity to manoeuvre our way through the world as best we can. [Ralph Waldo] Emerson again [a persistent influence, Banville argues], from his great essay “Experience”: “We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.” Ford’s is, of course, an essentially male view of things, and it is no coincidence that he is one of the few novelists nowadays whose work is read by men. You’ve got to be tough to survive, is Frank’s conviction, but the odd joke doesn’t hurt.

In a long essay/interview with Kevin Stevens in the Dublin Review of Books in 2008, Richard Ford said:

I do think that one of the true generosities of novels – mine or someone else’s – is that they treat their readers to the best language their writers are capable of delivering, and also to as much of significant experience as the writer can artfully hold up to notice ... Realistic novels are fundamentally life-affirming in that they argue that life is worth this much serious consideration – life that we might otherwise not notice, or might take for granted, or might miss. I’m glad when I can put large amounts of human-experience-expressed-in-language into formal play. Novels – art in general – tries to re-thread our experience, tries to make us notice and even like it more, causes us to notice consequences different from the conventional ones we rely on, tries to reconfigure the known world so as to let us see it better, see it as important ... When I do that on a large scale and do it competently, I’m happy.

Banville on Ford

Kevin Stevens interviews Richard Ford