Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Realtor-Cum-Critic, Dismayed by All He Sees ; Frank Bascombe Makes His Troubled Third Appearance in Richard Ford's Latest Novel

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Realtor-Cum-Critic, Dismayed by All He Sees ; Frank Bascombe Makes His Troubled Third Appearance in Richard Ford's Latest Novel

Article excerpt

It's in the days leading up to - and following - Thanksgiving in the year of the 2000 presidential election that we once again meet up with Frank Bascombe, the protagonist of Richard Ford's earlier two novels, "The Sportswriter" (1986) and "Independence Day" (1995). If you liked Bascombe in those earlier novels, you'll enjoy him again - older, battered by life's vicissitudes, perhaps a bit wiser, with a deeper understanding of his own and other folks' inner journeys.

But Bascombe is certainly not mellow: This is a man in his mid- 50s who can still get into a bar fight and come out the winner! What has made him so mad? It's the 2000 election, which is creeping inexorably and, to Frank, rebarbatively, toward its inevitable conclusion as Ford's narrative winds along its nearly five hundred pages. Fans of George W. Bush are not likely to enjoy The Lay of the Land, which is filled with references to the "frat boy" and assorted other epithets which boil up out of its hero's outrage. On the other hand, readers who share Bascombe's - and, one assumes, Ford's - white-hot anguish at every development between Election Day 2000 and the handing down of the judgment in Bush v. Gore will likely adore this passionate, heartfelt novel.

There are, of course, other reasons to like "The Lay of the Land," which is as vibrant a book as any that Richard Ford has written. It bristles with energy, with a natural assurance on the part of its writer. The novel is so full of good writing that it's hard to pick a passage that could serve as the prime example, but here Mississippi-born Ford has Bascombe meditate fruitfully on a particularly loaded and meaningful word:

"What is home then, you might wonder? The place you first see daylight, or the place you choose for yourself? Or is it the someplace you just can't keep from going back to, though the air there's grown less breathable, the future's over, where they really don't want you back, and where you once left on a breeze without a rearward glance? Home? Home's a musable concept if you're born to one place, as I was (the syrup-aired southern coast), educated to another (the glaciated mid-continent), come full stop in a third - then spend years finding suitable 'homes' for others. …

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