Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
”At some point you just need to leave the theater so the next crowd can see the movie.”
Frank Bascombe can no longer fool himself that he is even a mature middle age. He is, frankly, fully qualified now to claim his twilight years. There is a consistent pain emanating from his prostate, a reminder of a recent bout of cancer. His footing on a sandy beach or on an icy sidewalk is now something potentially treacherous. He is decommissioning words that he finds to be unnecessary or imprecise in expressing himself. He has decided that five friends is plenty and one of those five is himself.
He is trying to keep his life simple.
His ex-wife Ann has moved back to Haddam. All the gin joints in all the world and she decided to walk back into Frank’s. She is living in a high end assisted living facility. It seems one of her ex-husbands provided her with a substantial portfolio. Frank, out of some form of obligation that makes no sense even to himself, goes to see her once a month, muses about her fruit pictures that make him uncomfortable with visions of vaginas, and waits to see how many expertly thrust daggers she manages to squeeze between his ribs. She never goes for the kill, but like a cat wounds him enough that it is impossible for him to escape.
”What I’ve attempted in my visits, and will try once again tonight, is to offer Ann what I consider my ‘Default Self’; this, in the effort to give her what I believe she most wants from me---bedrock truth. I do this by portraying for her the self I’d like others to understand me to be, and at heart believe I am: a man who doesn’t lie (or rarely), who presumes nothing from the past, who takes the high, optimistic road (when available), who doesn’t envision the future, who streamlines his utterances (no embellishments), and in all instances acts nice. In my view, this self plausibly represents one-half of the charmed-union-of-good-souls every marriage promises to convene but mostly fails to---as was true of ours long ago.”
Frank is still counselling his old client base about the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. He used to sell real estate and now most of those high dollar beach homes that gave him a comfortable retirement, including one he owned, are now piles of expensive kindling. Real estate agents are being shot, as if they could anticipate a hurricane of the magnitude of Sandy devastating the coast, so a vengeful ex-client is one more thing for Frank to be worried about.
His wife Sally is counselling victims of the hurricane and finds her own state of mind is spiraling downward with the daily barrage of stories of loss. She isn’t sure that Frank is dealing with the devastation properly. It is always hard to know now, with TV dictating the proper responses to any social situation, whether one is being stoic enough or too stoic or too emotional or too cold to any given circumstance. Like everything else even our responses to tragedy have become homogenized. Frank has tried several different levels of response, but hasn’t been a good enough actor to convince Sally of any of them. It isn’t that he doesn’t care. It has more to do with living long enough to understand that unfortunate things...well...happen.
”History’s just somebody else’s War and Peace".
Sally thinks he needs to write a book, but he has been down that road before. Novelists are ”(the last outpost of a certain species of doomed optimist.) Frank doesn’t really want to do anything with his last remaining days on this planet, but he does want to enjoy them as best he can. He weighs the results of even spending time with his grown children. Can he afford the time? They are relatively self-sufficient after all. He wants to elude pain and suffering as best he can. He wants to avoid further time killing entanglements with the past or the future. He is firmly trying to stay planted in the present, but is beset on all sides with the pull of responsibility.
There are four Frank Bascombe books. The first is The Sportswriter, the second is Independence Day, the third is The Lay of the Land, and of course this book makes up the fourth. I hope this is not the last time I spend with Frank Bascombe. I would not suggest parachuting in and reading this one without reading the other books first. The books are the progression of a life. I don’t think a reader can fully appreciate the twilight years of Frank Bascombe without seeing the younger Frank who is still battling, losing, winning, and dreaming. We all wear different skins for different parts of our lives and to know Frank in one stage without knowing him for the others is like eating the core of an apple without the juicy benefits of tasting the fruit.
I must go back and read them all again because I read each of them while still decades younger than Frank. I enjoyed them none the less, but I have a feeling I will achieve a higher affinity with them by rereading them again. This series has been compared favorably to the John Updike Rabbit books, but the Rabbit books are my least favorite Updike books while the Frank Bascombe books routinely end up on my favorite books list. If you haven’t read Richard Ford give The Sportswriter a try. Please give Frank my regards and tell him I’ll stop by and visit with him again real soon.
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