Review

The Lay Of the Land

by Richard Ford



In the final four decades of the 20th century, author John Updike
chronicled the life of Harry Angstrom from high school to death. In
a series of four novels, he portrayed the quintessential
middle-class American male facing contemporary problems of drugs,
marital infidelity, family issues, life and ultimately death.
Throughout the saga, readers could identify with a character and an
era that mirrored issues and events in their own lives. Updike
ended the Rabbit saga with Angstrom's death in 1990. Perhaps now
both author and character have been replaced by Frank Bascombe, who
appears in Richard Ford's THE LAY OF THE LAND, which recounts
middle-class American life passing from the 20th century into the
21st.


Bascombe first appeared to readers as a failed novelist turned
sportswriter suffering through an unsuccessful marriage and the
death of his young son in Ford's 1985 novel, THE SPORTSWRITER. In
1995, INDEPENDENCE DAY marked Bascombe's return to American
literature and resulted in a Pulitzer Prize for Ford. It focused on
a 4th of July weekend in Bascombe's life as the now New Jersey real
estate man faced issues surrounding his divorce and the
difficulties attendant to raising a troubled child. In THE LAY OF
THE LAND it is Thanksgiving of 2000, the nation still awaits a
final determination of the presidential election, and Frank
Bascombe, now 55 years old, confronts his own mortality while
battling prostate cancer.


In earlier novels Bascombe had made the transition from
sportswriter to real estate salesman. THE LAY OF THE LAND finds him
continuing in that trade but having moved to the New Jersey shores.
He has remarried, but his current wife Sally has left him after
learning that her former husband, presumed dead, was discovered to
be alive and residing in Scotland. If this surprise were not enough
to complicate one's life, Bascombe's first wife takes this moment
to profess her continued love and desire to resume married life.
For Bascombe these events lead to long introspective personal
dialogues often enunciated while he drives to his various real
estate transactions. They are recounted by Ford in great detail as
the novel stretches to nearly 500 pages.


Thanksgiving week will mark the reuniting of the Bascombe family,
his two surviving children and his former wife. There is a void in
his life, created perhaps by the death of his son at age eight. The
surviving children are disappointments to Bascombe, and the family
holiday gathering is simply an uncomfortable occasion for the
entire clan. Along the way, however, there are a few surprises for
the reader detailed in Bascombe's extraordinary voice. Ford has the
remarkable ability to speak to important issues of life through
ordinary people, a talent that most readers will value.


Ford has indicated that THE LAY OF THE LAND will be the final
installment in the life of Frank Bascombe. Many loyal readers will
find this a sad turn of events and can only hope that Ford will
reconsider his decision. In a complicated and frightening world,
Bascombe's wise counsel and views can be rewarding for many readers
like myself who desire to grow old with an everyman like
Bascombe.


   










Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 30, 2010

The Lay Of the Land
by Richard Ford

  • Publication Date: July 24, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0679776672
  • ISBN-13: 9780679776673