Friday, June 6, 2008

Playing Favorites

We all have authors who really resonate for us, and others whom we just don't get. It's not a matter of literary talent; it's just a matter of personal taste. I know I should like Louise Erdrich – she's certainly a talented and respected author – but for some reason her writing doesn't grab me. I used to enjoy reading Annie Proulx, but after reading her two latest New Yorker short stories all I can say is – get that woman some Prozac, she is way too bleak and depressing, even for someone like me who enjoys the darker stuff.

On the other hand we all have authors who just seem to speak our language, and we have a soft spot for them. For me Richard Ford falls into that category. The main character of his latest book The Lay of the Land is Frank Bascombe. Frank first appeared in The Sportswriter, recently divorced and mourning the death of his oldest child. In Independence Day Frank, who had switched from writing to real estate in suburban New Jersey, attempted to reconnect with his teenage son on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame over a Fourth of July weekend. In The Lay of the Land Frank is still selling real estate, but he has left suburban Haddam and moved to the Jersey shore. He is now in his fifties, dealing with prostate cancer, and mourning the loss of his second wife who has left him to return to her first husband. The story takes place around Thanksgiving, as Frank attempts to gather his two grown children and his first wife for a holiday dinner at his beach home. The year is 2000, so the background music is the contested presidential election. Frank's appeal for me is ordinariness and his honesty. He recognizes his own failures and, although he sometimes spends too long ruminating about his philosophy of life and the rigors of middle age, his earnest attempts to know his children better are touching but not sentimental. Ford has a great ear for dialogue and a wicked sense of humor. His description of Frank's barroom brawl in Revolutionary War roadhouse tavern is vivid and hilarious. Frank is not an heroic character, but I have grown to admire his solid, reliable sincerity.

So who is the author you can't help loving or can't love?

PS There's a great podcast of Richard Ford reading a John Cheever short story. Look for New Yorker:Fiction on iTunes - “The Reunion” May 3, 2007

No comments:

Post a Comment