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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

Monday, December 1, 2014

In the eyes of others: 2nd story in Let Me Be Frank with You

The second section, or story, in Richard Ford's Let Me Be Frank with You, "Everything Could be Much Worse" (I think) involves only 2 characters, at least speaking characters: Frank Bascombe comes homes, mid-December, snow falling lightly, from his volunteer work recorded readings for the blind (Naipaul's Enigma of Arrival, great book and odd choice), to find a very well-dressed and attractive 50ish black woman at his doorstep asking if she can come inside the house. He invites her in, and she asks to look around - he lets her do so. His behavior seems a little odd, but he is very aware that he is super-conscious of not appearing to the this woman, Ms. Pine, to be racist or suspicious of her because she's black - well, we as readers feel the same way, we want to believe she's harmless or benevolent - but maybe she's not? Who would invite any stranger in - black or white - to have a look around the house while we sit in the kitchen sipping coffee? As in all of the Bascombe novels and stories, Frank is very self-analytic throughout, very aware of the tenuous ground he's on - trying to be neighborly, friendly - but suspicious of his own motives and behaviors as he tries so hard not to be suspicious of hers (which he should be - btw, Bascombe's narrative is full of parenthetical observations and qualifications, like this one). As it happens, Ms. Pine is visiting the house because she lived there as a child and (spoiler), as she reveals toward the end of the story, her father killed her mother, brother, and himself in the house while she was at school. Well, good story line - but quite preposterous, as how can we believe that Frank, a realtor no less, would be unaware of the history of this suburban house he owns and inhabits? In any event, it's worth noting that there's a 3rd presence in this story: the Tea Party right-wing, "never surrender," across-the-street neighbor of whom Frank remains hyper-aware: his coddling of this odd visitor is in a sense his demonstration of his good intentions to the neighbor who seems to be warily observing the encounter from behind his blinds, like a hunter. In the broader sense, Ford seems to be getting at the way in which so many of our social encounters, perhaps particularly involving race and politics, are a form of play-acting for others to observe. How others see us is as important to us as how we see ourselves - in fact, to a degree, how others see us informs and determines how we see our selves.

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