Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Independence Day is the first-person narrative of Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter turned real-estate agent. The novel continues the odyssey of self-discovery on which Frank embarked in Ford’s 1986 novel, The Sportswriter. Independence Day recounts a Fourth-of-July weekend in which Frank attempts to juggle work, relationships with family and friends, and a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, that he hopes will be therapeutic for his emotionally disturbed teenage son, Paul.
The novel’s events unfold primarily at different points along the highways that separate Frank’s home in Haddam, New Jersey, from Deep River, Connecticut, where Paul lives, and Cooperstown. This circuitous route mirrors the course of the narrative, which moves back and forth in time as Frank attempts to relate memories of the past to his current situation. Once a promising young fiction writer, Frank lost his bearings following the death of his young son from Reye’s syndrome. The trauma of this loss led to the breakup of his marriage to Ann Dykstra and his gradual drift into sports journalism, an occupation that allowed him to make a living while avoiding coming to grips with his profound emotional crisis. This “bad season” ended with Frank quitting his job and taking brief sojourns in Florida and Paris before returning to Haddam “aquiver with possibility and purpose.” Selling real estate comes naturally to him because he is “not one bit preoccupied with how things used to be” and because intimacy has begun to matter less to him. Frank is upbeat and optimistic about his community, where he serves as an exemplary landlord for two houses he maintains in Haddam’s black neighborhood, and he is persuasive in his real-estate dealings. He is very positive about his upcoming trip with Paul, and he plans to instruct his son with ideas gleaned from the Declaration of...
(The entire section is 785 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Independence Day is the sequel to the widely admired The Sportswriter (1986) and is a highly acclaimed example of contemporary realistic fiction. In returning to the life of Frank Bascombe, a sort of suburban Everyman, some years after the events chronicled in The Sportswriter, Richard Ford (as has John Updike in a similar series of novels) further explores the ways in which occupation, environment, and relationships define American men to others and to themselves. Independence Day is an ultimately hopeful depiction of the search for meaning and identity at the end of the twentieth century.
After his careers as budding novelist and as sportswriter prove, respectively, impossible to consummate or insufficient to give his life meaning, Frank Bascombe becomes a realtor in the New Jersey suburb of Haddam (modeled after Princeton, where Ford once taught), scene of the action in both novels. He still loves his former wife Ann, who has remarried and carried their children away to Connecticut (he has purchased and moved into their old home in a vain attempt to maintain his former roles), making it necessary to finally acknowledge the end of his marriage and his identity as a former husband. The divorce complicates his identity as father so considerably that there are times he considers giving it up entirely. The novel is built around Bascombe’s Fourth of July weekend journey with his troubled adolescent son Paul, a trip that...
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Frank Bascombe is a real estate agent, divorced and living away from his children. Over the long holiday weekend, he is trying to sell a house to a difficult couple, as he worries over his personal relationship with his girlfriend, Sally Caldwell. He is also trying to connect with his fifteen-year-old son, Paul, who has gotten into trouble. Bascombe’s plan is a trip to the basketball and baseball halls of fame, a father and son weekend together.
Bascombe is trying to collect rent on a pair of houses he owns near his hometown of Haddam, New Jersey, where he lives in his former wife’s old house. He had moved here when his former wife Ann, remarried—to Charlie O’Dell—and moved with him to Connecticut. Bascombe bought her house so their children would feel some stability, especially since they no longer live in the same town as their father. He is especially worried about Paul, who has been arrested for shoplifting and for a physical confrontation with a security guard, which Paul blames on surprise rather than malevolence. Ann has sent Paul to a therapist, worried about his behavior, which is oddly distant and full of worrisome behavior, including making dog-barking sounds.
Bascombe has no luck collecting the overdue rent; in fact, he is threatened by his renter. He turns to his next task—taking Joe and Phyllis Markham to look at potential houses to buy. They have already looked at dozens of houses and are nearing a breaking point. They are interested in moving from Vermont, looking for an area to raise their daughter, but they cannot afford the home they dream of and are unhappy with the places they have seen in their price range. Bascombe arrives to pick them up, and Joe is surly and angry, dressed inappropriately for going out in public. Bascombe takes them to see one more house: a beautiful home that has just gone on the market. It has one flaw—forming the property’s back boundary is the wall of a minimum-security, country-club-style prison. After arguing with Joe, who essentially fires Bascombe, Bascombe returns to check on his overdue renter. A neighbor calls the police, believing Bascombe is trying to break into the house.
Bascombe leaves for one final errand. He has to stop by a root beer stand he owns, to check on plans to sell hotdogs on Independence Day. His employee insists...
(The entire section is 954 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Independence Day marks a new stage of the career of Richard Ford, winning, as it did, both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. On the surface, Independence Day is deceptively simple: A divorced father takes his son on a trip to several sports halls of fame, the son suffers eye damage that may be permanent, and the father returns home to ponder his experiences. In reality, the novel is a re-creation of an age-old mythic quest. In this case, it is the establishment of communication between the father and son and an internal journey on the part of the protagonist to find himself, confront his demons, and move into a new phase of his life. Bascombe, the sportswriter of the book by that name, has become a real estate agent. Nearing fifty years of age, he has entered a period of life that he refers to as “the Existence Period,” in which he measures every act, every meeting with another person, every idea in his mind as if life depended upon it. He is a good man, an affable man, although he might seem to many as a failure: He is divorced, his children live with his former wife, and he has moved from career to career without any marked sign of progress in his life.
Like Walker Percy’s Binx Bolling in The Moviegoer (1961) and John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, Frank is an existential protagonist, seeking to find meaning in his life in a world that seems meaningless. Yet unlike those characters, Frank is an agnostic, finding no solace in any religious belief. He ponders the fact that human beings are generally unhappy, without knowing why, and that free will is restricted to the degree that people “can live with the consequences” of their deeds. In the Existence phase of his life, Frank believes that everything is “limited or at least underwritten by” the simple fact of existence. Because all that human beings know is subject to change and finally destruction, he believes that human actions can be judged only by how practical they are and what their consequences may be. Whatever his situation, Frank believes, a man must persist, shedding from his life that which is nonessential, relying on “common sense, resilience, good cheer.”
As a realistic real estate...
(The entire section is 913 words.)