Richard Ford’s books have entranced me for quite a few years now, and although few in number, his Frank Bascombe series has said about as much as any writer can say about life itself, its twists and turns and unexpected deviations. Ford seems to understand people and their strange motivations as well as anyone, although fellow American Anne Tyler is in the same class of writers in her ability to make her readers say, “Yes, that’s how it is”.
Ford came to my attention with his first Frank Bascombe novel, The Sportswriter, in which Frank, a divorced newspaper sports-writer loses his son to a wasting disease and goes through an existential crisis. With his second Bascombe novel, Independence Day, Ford won the Pen/Faulkner prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – high praise indeed, but well-deserved in my view. The series ends with The Lay of the Land which I reviewed by saying,
“The charm of this novel, like its predecessors, is that nothing much happens. Frank is allowed to tell his story in his usual meandering way. A trip into town can give rise to pages of observations and reflections, somewhat in the way of W G Sebald, or even Marcel Proust. What makes this work is that Frank has a wondrously philosophical attitude to life, not one that insulates him from problems, but one which enables him to interpret them and live through them in an almost Buddhist way, where trouble is rarely confronted full on, but rather side-stepped and averted by Frank’s huge tolerance and patience”.