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Frank Bascombe, the sportswriter of the title, is a 38 year old suburban white male who has lost a 9 year old son to Reyes Syndrome and abandoned his marriage after his wife discovered his infidelity. The events of the book, meager as they are, take place on Easter Week in 1983. Frank visits an ex-athlete for a story, visits his girlfriend's family & deals with a distraught fellow member of the local Divorced Men's Club. Along the way he gives a running (and running and running) narrative about his envy of athletes' ability to stay "within themselves" & compares it to his own sense of "dreaminess" or alienation from himself and his life.

Bascombe is a prime example of what C.S. Lewis called "Men without Chests".   He is a hollow man, empty at the core of his being. He has no friends. He does not believe anything or in anything. And he is in a state of flight from the responsibilities (to wife, children & career) that provide the only anchors in his life. He represents everything that is wrong with the self-centered, irresponsible, unbelieving men of his generation. He is a man in need of a good bitchslap and in fact, the highlight of the book comes when his girlfriend cold cocks him.

Ford is such a good writer that even though Frank is excruciatingly annoying and his narrative goes on much too long, we can't help getting caught up in the story. But the book is ultimately unsatisfying because Ford himself does not take an editorial stand in regard to Frank. Is the book meant to be a satirical look at Frank? Or is Frank speaking in Ford's own voice & telling us how Ford feels about modern life?

In the review below, Andrew feels that the final chapter redeems Bascombe.  But in this epilogue we find out that Frank has basically quit his job, moved to Florida & is involved in a relationship with a 21 year old college student. How can this further retreat from responsibility be seen as redeeming him?

I finished the book feeling that Ford had brilliantly laid bare the pathology of a certain type of modern male, but since I fail to see any change for the better in Frank, it seems a purely cautionary tale.

Andrew Geller review:

Richard Ford's The Sportswriter presents a convincing portrait of the American male. Most striking to this reviewer is the picture of men's response to strong emotions. The book describes a week at the end of a period of huge emotional upheaval in the life of Frank Bascombe, during which we learn of his "dreaminess," essentially a deferment of emotions elicited by the death of a son and a divorce. We also see other cameos of male coping, through rage, suicide, sublimation into inane hobbies.

We also see that the male state is to be alone. The occasional attempt at male association is the modern version of a hunting party, which dissolves once the prey is captured. In this theme, Ford compares to
Russell Banks (see Orrin's review of Affliction), though with far less pathos.

This is an excellent book, drawn from the realm of a male menopause meditation by the final chapter, in which Bascombe can view his behavior from outside of that chapter of his life, and in which the reader can appreciate that there is more to Bascombe than the self-involved ramblings that comprise the rest of the book.

GRADE: A

CHARLIE HERZOG'S REVIEW:
Just finished it.  Agree with your review, it sucked. Ford rambles on forever-- regardless of his talent as a writer, when the commentary is on the empty streets of a New Jersey suburb we're not talking compelling narrative.

Anyone who thinks this is a commentary on modern man has been through way too many self-realization exercises. Losing a child would be an exceptionally traumatizing experience, but it's not an excuse to screw 20 women and abandon your other children.  Is there a large population of men out there this pitiful?  If so, I don't know them.

GRADE: D-

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

Websites:

See also:

General Literature
Richard Ford Links:
-ESSAY: A City Beyond the Reach of Empathy (RICHARD FORD, September 4, 2005, NY Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Encyclopaedia Britannica: Your search: "richard ford"
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: New York Times Archives
    -ESSAY: Stop Blaming Baseball (Richard Ford, New York Times Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Independence Day, with its author Richard Ford (The Newshour, PBS)
    -Salon Magazine Interview
    -Biography from Potpourri Magazine
    -Mississippi Writers Page bio
    -Richard Ford: The Mississippi Writers and Musicians Project of Starkville High School
    -PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Winners 1981-1998
    -Ploughshares Profile
    -PROFILE: The internal optimist:  'Independence Day' author Richard Ford is learning how to be at home with literary success (Jim Yardley, y'all.com)
    -PROFILE: Never in character: Like his protagonists, author prefers to evolve  (FRITZ LANHAM, Houston Chronicle)
    -Reading Group guide for Independence Day
    -ESSAY: Richard Ford's Uncommon Characters (Bruce Weber, The New York Times Magazine)
    -ESSAY: Richard Ford on Raymond Carver (The New Yorker, October 5, 1998) (Melissa Byles)
    -REVIEW: of The Sportswriter (Alice Hoffman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Robert Towers: Screams and Whispers, NY Review of Books
                            Gerald's Party by Robert Coover
                            The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
    -REVIEW: of   INDEPENDENCE DAY By Richard Ford  (Charles Johnson, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Independence Day (Dean Bakopoulos, Michigan Daily)
    -REVIEW: of Independence Day (PAUL GRAY, TIME)
    -REVIEW : of A Multitude of Sins: Stories by Richard Ford (Scott Bradfield, Times of London)
    -REVIEW :├Łof A Multitude of Sins (JAMES BRADLEY, The Age)

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