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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Let Me Be Frank With You

In his most recent book Richard Ford catches us up on the progress of Frank Bascombe, now 68, failed novelist, former sportswriter, retired New Jersey real estate agent and the protagonist of three of Ford's previous novels. In four overlapping stories Frank interacts with people he'd prefer not to be engaged with.
In the first story, "I'm Here" Hurricane Sandy has recently wrought destruction along the Jersey shore and Frank's current wife, Sally, is off providing counselling to the affected; she is suffering as well but we don't see much of her. Frank drives out to meet with a client to whom he'd sold his house on the shore. The house is now a pile of rubble and Frank, awkward and cold in his light jacket, tries to figure out what the man wants from him.
In "Everything Could Be Worse" Frank finds a strange woman at his front door who informs him that she had lived there as a girl. He assumes she is here because of nostalgia but is thrown when she reveals what actually happened to her in Frank's home when she was 16 years old.
In “The New Normal,” Frank visits his first wife, Ann who has Parkinson’s disease and lives in a high-end care home uncomfortably close to Frank's own home. He brings her an orthopaedic pillow and the visit reminds him of the failings of the marriage.
In “Deaths of Others” Eddie, an old friend who is on his deathbed, asks Frank to come visit. Again, Frank feels uncomfortable but obligated to attend. Eddie makes a confession about a transgression that occurred many years ago. Frank is remarkably unmoved by the information.
Frank Bascombe is a man moving into old age with all the accompanying aches and pains (I have them myself). He is a staunch Democrat who shuns the Republicans who surround him. He greets veterans returning from overseas combat and reads for the blind at a community radio station. He tries to comfort those around him with platitudes or an orthopaedic pillow but he doesn't really care about their wellbeing, he just wants to smooth things over. This sounds grim but Ford's wry irony had me laughing out loud. It lacks the weight of the other Bascombe books but it's still a damn good read. 

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