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Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book

Review

Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book

In his 1986 novel, THE SPORTSWRITER, Richard Ford introduced Frank Bascombe to the literary world. Bascombe is an unsuccessful novelist and sportswriter who experiences the tragedy encompassed by the death of his young son. The emotional cost is high both personally and to his family. It was named one of the five best books of the year by Time Magazine. In 1995, Ford returned to Bascombe’s life in INDEPENDENCE DAY, a sequel that finds the ex-sportswriter a real estate agent in New Jersey. It was the first novel awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in the same year. The final installment of the trilogy, THE LAY OF THE LAND, was published in 2006. Bascombe, now a successful real estate agent, struggles with the traditional problems of a man in his mid-50s. Family, business and health issues seem to suffocate him, and the story ends as he travels to the Mayo Clinic for treatment of prostate cancer.

Through Ford’s writing, Frank Bascombe became a major literary figure during the final years of the 20th century, serving as a witness to the era’s aspirations and defeats. Bascombe’s ruminations on family, love, politics and life itself serve as a mirror for readers struggling with those same issues in their actual lives.

"Frank Bascombe remains a literary character who is capable of striking chords in readers that they will clearly recognize in themselves. Ford’s greatest strength as a writer is his ability to make his characters into human beings whose strengths and weaknesses are present in all of us."

Bascombe has returned for probably his final literary appearance in Ford’s collection of four novellas, LET ME BE FRANK WITH YOU. It is now December 2012, and Bascombe’s Jersey Shore is recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Sandy. He observes that “nothing smells of ruin as fragrantly as the first attempts at rescue.” The hurricane is the constant theme running through these stories that focus on the 68-year-old Bascombe’s life in retirement.

First, in “I’m Here,”Bascombe meets a former client whose beach house, sold to him by Bascombe, was destroyed by the storm. In “Everything Could Be Worse,” a woman who grew up in Bascombe’s present house comes to visit and reveals to him its tragic history. For those who have not read the trilogy, “The New Normal” is a brief recounting of Bascombe’s life as he drives to see his first wife, now living in a retirement community.

Finally, in “Death of Others,” Bascombe reluctantly visits a dying friend, which causes him to ponder his life and the mysteries of love, family and friendship. Confronted with a shocking deathbed revelation from the friend to whom he has come to bid farewell, Bascombe responds rather taciturnly: “But I’m not mad --- at anyone. A wound you don’t feel is not a wound. Time fixes things, mostly.”  The conclusion of the story reminds us for one final time that Bascombe is a passive man who rarely allows his emotions to show.

The four stories in LET ME BE FRANK WITH YOU share the further common thread of the protagonist encountering unwelcome ties with his past. Frank Bascombe remains a literary character who is capable of striking chords in readers that they will clearly recognize in themselves. Ford’s greatest strength as a writer is his ability to make his characters into human beings whose strengths and weaknesses are present in all of us. We wish you well, Frank. We will miss you.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on November 6, 2014

Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book
by Richard Ford

  • Publication Date: November 4, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 0061692069
  • ISBN-13: 9780061692062