Book Review – Let Me Be Frank With You – Richard Ford
This is fourth book in what was originally a completed trilogy by Ford – three iconic and truly great American novels over 15 years – The Sportswriter, Independence Day and Lay of the Land, all tracking the small triumphs and failures of one unremarkable middle class American, Frank Bascombe. All of these books, and particularly this one (which is more of a postcript than a novel), are mercifully free of and the artificial and synthetic straight jackets of plot, but are brimming with story (in extremis – plot is entirely eschewed, we are simply transported into Bascombe’s head, and we follow him around for a few days – hearing what he thinks, and seeing what he sees). The meandering approach to the novel is (contrary to expectations) liberating and thrilling, and in Ford’s hands full of pathos and gentle humour and profound insight.
There are 4 stories in this book, minimally overlapping, all taking place on the seashore in New Jersey in the days approaching Christmas 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane and its attendant devastation of property and lives colour all of the stories and is the driving metaphor behind many of the book’s more subtle themes – the end of things, ambition’s pointless energies, loves lost, lives unhinged by random events.
Bascombe is approaching seventy, his whole history within miles of his home. His Parkinson’s afflicted ex-wife in an spectacularly well-appointed care facility waiting for the disease to claim her. A sometime friend (once rich and envied) dying in a nearby hospice bottled up with a secret whose shock value has been leached by age. A black stranger who arrives at Bascombe’s front door to tell him about her brutally truncated childhood in this house in which he now resides. His current wife counseling grief-stricken hurricane victims and Bascombe’s growing distance from both her and the entire outside world.
It is difficult for me to articulate the magic of this book, particularly in the light of the previous Bascombe novels (it is not necessary to read them to enjoy this one), but there are many places were I stopped to rethink a thought in Bascombe’s head. There are few other characters in the modern American literature who are so fully rendered, drawn with all the complexities of everyman as he, and we, get towards the end – our unnecessary fretting and tiny pleasures and overblown fears and fading memories and finally the peace we can make with ourselves after a lives lived with best intent but arbitrary consequence.