Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

Frank Bascombe is a sportswriter, an everyman who lives life in avoidance of too much darkness or depth. While he is a failed novelist, lost his wife and witnessed his oldest son die from Reyes (he has two other children), he does not let life’s setbacks or travails give him much pause. He loves his boring, quaint New Jersey town and loves the mindlessness of sports writing and enjoys his current girlfriend with a little less enthusiasm than the previous subjects. Frank's general philosophies are that the past doesn’t or shouldn’t much matter, that love should be entered lightly and often (although he refers to his ex-wife only as X, which belies a stronger, more lingering feeling than is shown), and that a little mystery should be allowed for in life. Despite the fact that Frank wasn’t the most sympathetic character in my eyes—hell, he cheated on his wife after their son died with 18 women, an act and a number that he ruminates on often—I still found the writing compelling at times, and illuminating. Ford is a good writer, I just wish he’s chosen a different subject or, like Russo does in Straight Man, anchored this man’s nonchalant bravado with a little more depth and denial. (Oh, and Frank uses the word Negro far more often than I’m comfortable with, and which I found puzzling given that this book came out in like 1986.) There is a wry distance to the character, even in recounting his own life, a lack of feeling, that was frustrating for this reader. The writing is impeccable, but I found myself a little exhausted and impatient towards the end. Fans of Updike, Cheever and Yates might like this one—but I find Yates to be the most satisfying of them all (and I know Ford admires him too).


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Alicia P. said...

Ooo, look you got comment spam. Jerks. Anyway, I LOVE this book, but I think you are sharing the sentiments of all of Frank's ex-wife & girlfriends! I find him to be quite available as a narrator but not as a character -- if you read just the dialogue. Does that make sense? Anyway, lovely review sweetie. Hope all's well! xo, a

Nutter72 said...

I found your blog because I'm trying to figure out why Bacombe uses the word "Negro" as well. It's jarring and weird and...seems unjustifiable. I don't intend that in a P.C. way, it simply doesn't seem accurate yet it's obviously a choice.

Fun Fact: in The Sportwriter, Bascombe has a Gabonese (African) boarder living with him at one point...I'm recalling this from memory but having lived in the country for two years, I can attest to the fact that the "tribe" he assigns the character is nonexistent and his description of the man as 6'5" (I believe) is laughable. The Gabonese, like most Central Africans, are not a particularly tall people. I believe Bascombe also muses as to the length of the African's genitalia (or maybe I was so amused I was waiting for that).