Frank Bascombe is a palooka writer out of Haddam, New Jersey who takes his son on a trip to the baseball hall of fame for the Fourth Of July. Although hyper observant he is wrong about his situation about as often as Jake Gittes from Chinatown is. He’s also a first rate loser, but none of these issues really comes up in the guileless English prose that sets out this tale. He may not be special. He may not even be likable (I don’t know if I’d want him as a friend), but he is a celebration of the average and the everyday. In that sense he stands for something.
This novel, as opposed to its prequel, The Sportswriter, is about the Existence Period for Mr. Bascombe. He has moved on from sportswriting to realty with a little landlordship and proprietorship. I’m glad to see he’s moved forward in some oblique fashion and he’s willing to refer to his ex-wife by her proper name now. Her name is Ann, by the way. She’s remarried now and Frank predictably doesn’t like her new spouse. He also doesn’t like his son much, Paul, who is tackling the “unbearable bastard” phase of his teen years.
Frank Bascombe appropriately surrounds himself with unlikable people, though they’re unlikable in different ways. There’s the hotheads McLeods, pussyfooting Joe Markham, and shotgun toting fool Karl Bemish. Ann’s new husband, Charley O’Dell, is likable and actually appropriately disliked by Frank. Don’t think Frank doesn’t have a squeeze of his own, either. Sally Caldwell is his girlfriend and he, of course, starts to wonder if he wants her or wants his wife. He leans toward her but he’s too indecisive to move forward. Hence Existence Period. I wouldn’t trade places with Frank for a million bucks.
But the novel is well written. Frank’s voice is so real you can actually hear him talk as you read, or at least I can. Having a character like that means you as a writer are definitely doing something right. Frank Bascombe may be a loser, this book may be arguably boring, but Richard Ford writes with incredible empathy and not quitting on this man deserves an award in itself.