Independence Day, by Richard Ford, is set in the fictional New Jersey town of Haddam (reportedly based on Princeton) and also roams over Connecticut and upstate New York. The plot is not complex. Frank Bascombe, a divorced realtor in his mid-forties, goes on a road trip over the Fourth of July weekend in 1988. After trying to sell a house to a couple who do nothing but complain and find fault, he visits his girlfriend at her house on the Jersey shore. Then he heads for Connecticut to pick up his troubled fifteen-year-old son Paul, who lives with Bascombe’s former wife and her second husband, whom both Bascombe and Paul dislike. Bascombe plans to use the trip to establish a deeper relationship with his son. They visit the Basketball Hall of Fame and then the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, where a distressing and unexpected incident disrupts Bascombe’s plans and forces him to end their trip early.
Bascombe’s constant ruminations on life in general and in the United States in the 1980s give Independence Day much of its depth and character. The novel can be seen as an inquiry into the nature of independence, a quality that Bascombe seeks to cultivate and tries to pass on to his son. But Bascombe also realizes that independence is a complex notion that may carry its dangers, too, in terms of social isolation and lack of community. During the course of the weekend, he discovers a new sense of optimism about his future and his willingness to connect with others in a meaningful way.
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