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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Jersey Shore - and the 4th volume of Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe series

Glad to start reading the terribly titled Let Me Be Frank with You, the 4th volume in Richard Ford's long-running Frank Bascombe series - now that Roth is retired and Updike gone, Ford's Bascombe series is probably the best American episodic chronicle of American life as seen through the consciousness of one outwardly ordinary American man. This volume - different from earlier ones in that it appears to be a set of four (sequential?) 60-page stories, or perhaps each is a novella - the previous three volumes were novels and the most recent, The Lay of the Land, was a very long and tedious novel, and I'm glad to see Ford has taken a vow of concision here. Bascombe is now 68 and retired from the real-estate business, living happily married or so it appears in a small central NJ town, having sold his very nice house on the coast. As we know from previous volumes, he's ruminative, loquacious, and opinionated, leaning somewhat left but not too far - he's a businessman and has to deal w/ a wide range of prospective buyers and sellers - well educated, and at heart a moralist. I read the first of the four sections - I'm Here - which begins in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, as Frank receives a call from the guy to whom he sold his own house, which is now in ruins, asking him for advice - Frank declines, as he's out of the business - and asking to meet him at the site of the ruin, which Frank assents to, out of some kind of moral obligation to the hapless buyer (who in any case, despite his loss of property, is very wealthy - the house was a vacation home, btw). Honestly not a hell of a lot happens in this story - perhaps typical of the previous volume as well - except that it gives Ford occasion for some excellent description of the coast in ruins and gives Ford/Bascombe occasion for many observations, on everything from the force of nature to Peter, Paul, and Mary (the trio, not the Biblical personages, though maybe this choice of detail reflects a Biblical aspect to the story - destruction and resurrection?). Ford's narrative ventriloquism - we have to believe that, though B. differs greatly from Ford in biographical detail, he is a mouthpiece through which Ford can opine and speculate - like most first-person narrators, for that matter - carries the day, at least through this section; the quality of the book as a whole will depend I think on how well each section adds to the picture of a man in a particular place and time, on whether one piece develops from the other or whether, at the end, we feel we've read 4 scraps from a work not completed or pulled together.

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