‘Let Me Be Frank with You’ by Richard Ford
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He introduced himself in one of the most memorable and direct voices of contemporary American fiction: “My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.” Readers first met Bascombe, recently divorced and aged 38, in The Sportswriter (1986). The book established Ford as a major novelist of his generation and one of the writers – along with Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff – most associated with the literary movement known as “dirty realism”. Over the three decades since, Ford and Bascombe have aged together.
In The Sportswriter, Bascombe was living the “normal applauseless life of us all”. By the time we encountered him again in the Pulitzer Prize–winning Independence Day (1995), he had become a real-estate agent and entered what he deemed the “Existence Period” of mid-life adjustment. The Lay of the Land (2006) found Bascombe suffering from prostate cancer in his “Permanent Period”.
Ford’s straightforward storytelling draws us into Bascombe’s contemplations on religion, race, politics and language. Nothing for him is off limits: he never got the memos about political correctness.
Let Me Be Frank with You contains four long stories that continue Bascombe’s blunt, captivating musings that eliminate all “phony, race-neutral natter”. While not for Bascombe beginners, it serves as an apt coda to the novels, weightier in their ideas and scope if only due to their size.
The new book begins in December of 2012, six weeks after Hurricane Sandy devastated – or “blotto’d”, in Bascombe-speak – America’s Atlantic coast. That landscape now “gives to the world the sad look of having taken a near-fatal punch in the nose … There’s something to be said for a good no-nonsense hurricane, to bully life back into perspective.” Now 68, Bascombe has entered his “Default Period”. Spared the storm’s devastation, his wife volunteers to counsel survivors, which gives Bascombe time to do what he does best: poke around the neighbourhood and investigate its denizens.
These connected stories find Bascombe re-engaging with figures from the previous books as he ponders his mortality and the state of his country. Combined, the four Bascombe books examine 30 years in the life of one American who continually contemplates his existence and the fate of the individual in a cacophonous, divided society. The honesty of his voice continues to beguile.