Richard Ford – The Sportswriter

Read October 2015

With its cynical, insightful and aloof protagonist, The Sportswriter is the first in the series of Frank Bascombe novels by Richard Ford. It covers a long Easter weekend when, in fact, very little happens, though a short term relationship with Vicki breaks down after a trip to Detroit and a friend, Walter, commits suicide.

The big events of Frank’s life seem to have taken place prior to the weekend and we learn about much of it through his reflections on the past and how it’s affected him: Ralph, one of his three children died; he let his relationship with his wife (known here only as X) collapse in the aftermath of the death; and, after a promising start, his career as a novelist is cut short when he chooses to become a sportswriter instead.

The core of the book is about Frank’s thoughts and the way he relates to and understands people. He is cynical, diffident, slightly lonely, though not necessarily unhappy. Throughout he offers remarkable and original insights into his own and others’ behaviour.

Interestingly, Frank is portrayed as a pretty average suburban American, not unlike Updike’s Rabbit. He is both unremarkable in his normality but also unique in his profound reflections. It is this, more than anything, that makes this such a good novel. Through Frank, Ford manages to demonstrate the individuality that underpins every apparently ‘normal’ life.

I can’t say I loved every bit of this book, though there are long sections of brilliance and Frank is a great American character who it is both entertaining and educational to spend time with. I know that I’ll be reading more about Frank Bascombe because his story, his spot-on reflections and his slightly wayward approach to life draws you in.

Richard Ford on the unknowability of the mind 

I do not think, in any event, it’s a good idea to want to know what people are thinking (that would disqualify you as a writer right there) … People never tell the truth anyway. And most people’s minds never contain much worth reporting, in which case they just make something up that’s patently ridiculous instead of saying the truth – namely, I was thinking of nothing. The other side, of course, is that you will run the risk of being told the very truth of what someone is thinking, which can turn out to be something you don’t want to hear, or that makes you mad, and ought to be kept private anyway…. Things just come into your mind on their own and aren’t your fault. So I learned this all those years ago – that you don’t need to held responsible for what you think, and that by and large you don’t have any business knowing what other people think.

Richard Ford, The Sportswriter 

Canada – Richard Ford

Read August 2015

The story of a boy, Dell, and his sister, whose lives are transformed when their parents, fairly desperate but highly unlikely criminals, rob a bank.
When they are caught, the mother arranges for them to be transported to Canada to live with the strange brother of her friend. Berner, the sister, runs away, leaving Dell to make the journey alone, where he experiences a strange, desolate and ultimately violent period of time. It appears that after this he establishes a normal if somewhat detached life, becoming a teacher and, possibly, writer. Berner’s life, from the little we see and hear of it from Dell, is more troubled and plagued by bad relationships and drink, and the book ends, fifty years or so after the initial incidents, with Dell visiting her as she dies.
Themes – the whole idea of America’s rural land as a place where people can invest, reinvent and hide their acts is a major theme, with Dell’s parents and Arthur Remlinger both thinking they can get away with robbery and murder by simply disappearing in to the large land of America and Canada.
We also see a lot about deception and the ways people hide their different natures and the ways they hide them from themselves.
And what is interesting is that Dell, despite all he has been through, is a fairly untroubled character. He is somewhat distances, detached, and on a quest to understand what happened but importantly, without digging too deep into how people think and feel. He wants thing to be surface level only, whilst knowing that they aren’t. It’s interesting to see, and have a story told through the voice of, a person who isn’t crazed or duplicitous but rather shows remarkable resilience in the face of a difficult and troubled upbringing. His voice throughout is one of simple and honest explanation, though still searching, indicating that people can and do live through terrible experiences and survive.