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

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Final thoughts on Let Me Be Frank with You

As you might expect from its title, Death of Others (a play on The Lives of Others?), the 4th and final story in Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank with You collection is dark and morbid: the narrator, Frank Bascombe, hears from another man in town, a long-ago friend, who's dying of cancer and wants very badly to see Frank; Frank goes on a death-bed visit, during which long lost friend Eddie makes a death-bed confession, which I won't reveal - but will say that it bears no import to us as readers as we know so little about the characters and circumstances involved - and in fact even Frank isn't particularly stirred by the confession. That said: This story is another example of Ford's technique - these stories (and the other Bascombe novels) are not about plot but about the unfolding of the consciousness of the likable, shrewd, observant, and reflective narrator. In a bit of humor in this story, Frank references (to friend Eddie) that he's been reading Naipaul in his recorded readings for the blind, and Eddie remarks that there's "not much going on" in the novel - a bit of Ford laughing at himself I think. Not much going on on the surface, but a lot going on at other levels. In this story as in the others in this collection, race is a key issue: black characters (a hospice nurse and an oil-delivery guy) play secondary but subsidiary roles in the story, and we sense that a theme Ford is continually working Frank's effort - in the age of Obama - to be post-racial, and the difficulty that entails, as his conversations with black people are imbued with self-consciousness. Religion is also a theme throughout the book, particularly in this last story, taking place on xmas eve, the church bells ringing, and an unpleasant encounter with an odious minister who also came to visit the dying man. Frank talks about his views on life quite a bit, and in this final story he espouses a philosophy of solitude - he has time for only a very few friends and family members and believes he will be better off w/ very few friends in his life. I think this is an absurd belief - and I suspect Ford, who by all indications has many friends, believes so as well - this is one of his ways, as an author, of separating himself from his most important fictional character: they are not one and the same, much as authors create and love their characters and often use characters to express their own views and beliefs. Yes, characters express the author's observations - how else would they attain these perceptions other than from the author? - but not necessarily the author's opinions. (I do believe Frank B. speaks for Ford when it comes to electoral politics, and some of the richest passages in this book involve his loathing of the Tea Party conservatives and his contemptuous disdain for the smug Romney-Ryan crowd.)

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