Ford, Richard (Vol. 99)
Richard Ford Independence Day
Awards: Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Born in 1944, Ford is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and critic.
In Independence Day Ford continues the story of Frank Bascombe, introduced in his earlier work The Sportswriter. Bascombe is a middle-aged, middle-class American, a short-story writer who published just one book before quitting to become a sportswriter. Having lost a son, his marriage, and finally his job, Bascombe attempts to carry on with a career in real estate sales. The story takes place over a Fourth of July weekend, which Bascombe intends to spend visiting the baseball and basketball halls of fame with his remaining, deeply troubled teenage son. In the process, he considers the nature of independence in people's lives and takes stock of his own life.
Critics have praised Ford's ability to evoke sympathy among readers for a protagonist as common, unremarkable, and unheroic as Bascombe. While some reviewers have dismissed the plot of Independence Day as sketchy and uninteresting, others have found in its plainness a metaphor for the quiet desperation of everyday life. Critics have also praised Ford as masterful in his use of descriptive detail in Independence Day, particularly in his depiction of the book's setting and his understanding of the real estate business. "With Independence Day," Michiko Kakutani observed, "Mr. Ford has written a worthy sequel to The Sportswriter and galvanized his reputation as one of his generation's most eloquent voices."
SOURCE: "Richard Ford," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 237, No. 20, May 18, 1990, pp. 66-7.
[In the following interview, Ford talks about the act of writing, his career, and his life.]
In Richard Ford's fiction, characters wince at a painful moment, extract its grudging truth, and scramble to survive. Ford, whose fourth novel, Wildlife, is due out next month from Atlantic Monthly Press, writes about "the smaller lives," their redeeming aches, and the luck or grit his people need to know themselves.
"I'm an optimist," Ford insists, but is rueful about what he calls, with amused chagrin, his "solemnity." It is something that permeates his stories and novels and also makes its presence felt in the author's soft-spoken yet hard-bitten Southern drawl. "I would rather be the guy who says 'I'm happy,'" Ford avows, "but I'm not much of a hoper. Rather than hope, I try to do something."
Since 1968, doing something has meant writing, and it came about fairly innocently. "When I decided to write, it wasn't larky, yet it was quixotic," Ford says. "I didn't have any notions of making a life out of it. I had the idea of writing stories, one at a time." Briefly a law student at Washington University in St. Louis, he had grown dissatisfied with the "answers" the law prescribed. Having been away for a spell from his home in the South—he was raised a salesman's son in...
(The entire section is 2017 words.)
SOURCE: "One Man's Cavalcade of Really Deep Thoughts," in Wall Street Journal, June 16, 1995, p. A12.
[In the following review, Bowman criticizes Ford's Independence Day as an example of the "Ruminative School of fiction" in which plot and character development are sacrificed for deep thinking.]
A good rule of thumb for readers of contemporary fiction is to avoid anything written in the first person whose main character is a failed writer. Actually, I would avoid anything whose main character is any kind of writer, but failed or blocked writers purporting to write about themselves are the worst. Richard Ford enjoyed his biggest success as a novelist with The Sportswriter, in which Frank Bascombe, author of one book of short stories, retreats from art to sportswriting. In Independence Day, he has brought Frank back as a real-estate salesman. Now that's what I call blocked!
Both these novels belong to what might be called the Ruminative School of fiction. In novels by ruminants nothing much happens, but lots of Deep Thoughts get thought and often lots of fine writing gets written. Introducing a genuinely dramatic element would seem phony and inauthentic to writers of the Ruminative School. Such traditional forms of literary excitement as plot and character development are presumably beneath the dignity of those who have Deep Thoughts to think and fine writing to...
(The entire section is 873 words.)
SOURCE: "Stuck in the Here and Now," in The New York Times Book Review, June 18, 1995, pp. 1, 28.
[In the following review, Johnson discusses Ford's characterization in Independence Day, and asserts that "Frank Bascombe has earned himself a place beside Willy Loman and Harry Angstrom in our literary landscape."]
When we last saw Frank Bascombe, the angst-ridden antihero of Richard Ford's highly praised 1986 novel, The Sportswriter, he was 38 and about to cast himself adrift. A journalist and onetime short-story-writer, Frank was a perfectly ordinary man with an extraordinary gift for social observation. Served up in highly original language, his perceptions lifted him above what he called "the normal applauseless life" to illuminate the "psychic detachment" caused by his divorce and by his own relentless self-doubt. At the time, The Sportswriter was an entertaining CAT scan of the shellshocked American psyche. It remains so today.
And now there's a sequel. Frank has returned, 44 years old but still unconvinced that "life's leading someplace," to narrate Mr. Ford's spirited fifth novel, Independence Day. The time is 1988, and Frank is looking forward to the Fourth of July weekend, when he's arranged to meet with his girlfriend, Sally Caldwell, and then take his 15-year-old son, Paul, to the basketball and baseball halls of fame. Paul has never recovered from...
(The entire section is 1545 words.)
SOURCE: "House Calls," in Chicago Tribune, June 22, 1995, p. 9C.
[In the following essay, Blades discusses Ford's novel Independence Day and asserts that Ford's "migratory habits have only enriched his life and fiction."]
By loose definition, Richard Ford is a displaced writer, but his migratory habits have only enriched his life and fiction. For one thing, they relieved him of the need to do extensive research for his latest novel, Independence Day.
The book's central character, Frank Bascombe, is a real estate agent, an occupation with which the 51-year-old Ford has acquired a more than passing familiarity over the decades, as he moved from Mississippi to New Jersey to Montana to Louisiana, with various intermediate stops.
By lighting out every couple of years for a new territory, Ford has been able to diversify, to "learn and write about the whole country." In the process, said the novelist, who was briefly in Chicago this week to promote his new book, he has also avoided the regional stereotyping that handicaps so many fiction writers.
Of his nomadic life, Ford said: "I haven't bought very many houses, but I've looked at a jillion. And when I started Independence Day, I discovered how much I knew about real estate. I guess it's a habit of being a writer. You just begin to soak stuff up."
(The entire section is 926 words.)
SOURCE: "Afloat in the Turbulence of the American Dream," in The New York Times, June 22, 1995, p. 1.
[In the following review, Kakutani praises Ford's accomplishments in Independence Day, asserting that Ford moves beyond Frank's state of mind to create a portrait of middle-class America in the 1980s.]
Perhaps the highest compliment a sportswriter can bestow on a basketball player is "he's unconscious!"—meaning, he's on one of those rhapsodic shooting streaks where instinct and reflex have combined to produce a blissful state devoid of doubt and hesitation, a state of pure immediacy where touch is everything and every shot falls with perfect, unthinking grace.
It was the fate of Frank Bascombe, the title character of Richard Ford's highly acclaimed 1986 novel, The Sportswriter, never to experience that state of grace, which is why he became a writer instead of the athlete his youthful prowess promised. Indeed, Frank emerged in that lucid novel as one of the most self-conscious, self-annotating characters to make his debut in contemporary American fiction since Binx Bolling appeared in The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy, in 1961.
Bascombe is back in Mr. Ford's powerful new novel, Independence Day, and though some seven years have passed since the death of his oldest son and the subsequent breakup of his marriage, Frank seems worse off than...
(The entire section is 1130 words.)
SOURCE: "You Can't Drive Home Again," in Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 2, 1995, pp. 1, 7.
[In the following review, Smith praises Ford's Independence Day for features he says Ford's readers have come to expect—the mimetic dialogue and telling detail—but points out that "the book can be a hefty sulk."]
A central dread of Frank Bascombe's life in Richard Ford's new novel, Independence Day, is that his ex-wife has married an architect. Bascombe is a realtor, someone who by his own description sells dreams. But his ex has left him for somebody who builds them, and somehow manages to bring those dreams to life. The question of what makes a house a home, and a group of people a family, animates Ford's novel.
Bascombe goes on an air-conditioned drive across New England, in a sense looking for the architect who might animate his own life. It's a parody of the journey to knowledge—Bascombe is a pilgrim more lost than he knows on his way to the shrine. Bascombe is on an idiot mission over the Independence Day weekend of 1988, driving with his son and trying to hit as many halls of fame as they can in 48 hours. Along the way, he thinks he'll: save his son from the life of crime he fears is ahead by reading Emerson to him; rendezvous with his girlfriend; and maybe get back together with his wife. His Ford Crown Victoria becomes his secret Mayflower on his voyage into the...
(The entire section is 1225 words.)
SOURCE: "Frank Bascombe Awakes to Lessons of Independence," in The Christian Science Monitor, July 3, 1995, p. 13.
[In the following review, Rubin praises Ford's Independence Day as "a fully realized portrait of modern American life as filtered through the mind and heart of a unique, yet typical American man."]
It's the early summer of 1988, year of the Dukakis-Bush presidential election and five years since we've last heard from Frank Bascombe, the protagonist of Richard Ford's memorable novel The Sportswriter.
Frank, who started out as an aspiring novelist with a book of short stories to his credit, then opted for journalism and became a sportswriter, has recently changed careers again [in Independence Day]. He is now a realtor. Forty-four years old, divorced, still living in Haddam, New Jersey, he feels he is entering a new, rather cheerless, phase of his life, which he calls his "existence period:" a time when unrealistic dreams have been given up and clear-eyed coping begins.
Frank is looking forward to the coming Fourth of July holiday. He plans to take his son, an increasingly troublesome teenager, on a trip to the basketball and baseball Halls of Fame in the hope that the excursion will be a chance to communicate with the boy. Armed with a copy of Emerson's "Self-Reliance," he imagines he will find a way to teach his son the lesson of...
(The entire section is 771 words.)
SOURCE: "Teenage Wasteland," in Maclean's, July 10, 1995, pp. 42-3.
[In the following excerpt, Lawson compares and contrasts the adolescent angst suffered by Paul in Ford's Independence Day to that of Chappie in Russell Banks's Rule of the Bone and discusses the literary merits of each work.]
There isn't a name for them yet—those early teen years of 14 and 15 when a boy's voice drops, he grows two shoe sizes every six months and he begins to see and judge the world through his own eyes. "An ass-o-lescent" is how Frank Bascombe, the narrator of Richard Ford's latest novel, Independence Day, describes his 15-year-old son, Paul. Chappie, the plain-speaking and compelling 14 year old narrator of Russell Banks's Rule of the Bone, doesn't have a word for his stage of life, and he doesn't have a witty father to mint one for him. Chappie doesn't have a father at all.
That is just one of the contrasts between these very fine, very different new works of American fiction. The stories of two white man-boys, the kind one might see hanging out at a mall on a school-day afternoon, sharply illustrate the vast and growing divide between rich and poor, haves and have-nots. Independence Day, the sequel to Ford's much-praised The Sportswriter, finds Frank Bascombe, a divorced, 44-year-old former short story writer and sports journalist, selling real estate in a...
(The entire section is 986 words.)
SOURCE: "Reckless People," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XLII, No. 13, August 10, 1995, pp. 11-14.
[In the following essay, Hardwick praises Ford for his talent as a storyteller, tracing his use of lavish detail, strong characterization, and sense of time and place throughout his work.]
From the stories in Richard Ford's collection Rock Springs: "This was not going to be a good day in Bobby's life, that was clear, because he was headed to jail. He had written several bad checks, and before he could be sentenced for that he had robbed a convenience store with a pistol—completely gone off his mind." Bobby's ex-wife is giving him his last breakfast and the man she is now living with is telling the story, with some disgruntlement ("Sweethearts").
In the title story, the narrator, Earl, with his daughter, Cheryl, her dog, Little Duke, and Earl's girlfriend, Edna, are driving through Wyoming in a stolen car.
I'd gotten us a good car, a cranberry Mercedes I'd stolen out of an opthamologist's lot in Whitefish, Montana. I stole it because I thought it would be comfortable over a long haul, because I thought it got good mileage, which it didn't, and because I'd never had a good car in my life.
The car develops trouble in the oil line and they have to abandon it in the woods. Somehow the little group gets to...
(The entire section is 4341 words.)
SOURCE: "A Nomad's Ode to Soffit and Siding," in The New York Times, August 22, 1995, pp. C13, C17.
[In the following interview, Smith talks to Ford about his life, his career, and his novel Independence Day.]
After a lifetime of itinerancy, living in 9 states and some 14 homes, the novelist Richard Ford knows the language of real estate by heart. "I try to be someone upon whom nothing is lost," he said the other day in his present hometown, New Orleans, borrowing a phrase from Henry James.
"Richard watches everything," said his wife, Kristina.
In Independence Day, his sixth work of fiction, Mr. Ford has tapped into the imagination of his contemporaries in their late 40's and early 50's who are obsessed with real estate and the buying and selling of houses. It is a generation for whom real estate has become a metaphor for human fulfillment.
He takes Frank Bascombe, the main character from his third novel, The Sportswriter, and transposes him to another time, about five years later, where, having failed in his career as a writer, he is now selling real estate in Haddam, N.J., a fictional town that bears many similarities to Princeton.
Frank, Charles Johnson wrote in The New York Times Book Review, is "a character we know as well as we know our next-door neighbors. Frank Bascombe has earned himself a place beside...
(The entire section is 1519 words.)
SOURCE: "Realty Meltdown," in London Review of Books, August 24, 1995, p. 23.
[In the following review, Dyer praises Ford's ability to capture the psychological dynamics of a situation by describing a few simple movements.]
Richard Ford's narrator, Frank Bascombe, quit serious writing to become a sportswriter. This was the making of Ford. It wasn't until he became Bascombe, the sportswriter, that Ford turned himself into a major novelist.
At odd moments in The Sportswriter, Frank looks back on his abandoned literary career. He had published a 'promising' collection of stories, Blue Autumn, and had then started on a novel which he never finished. It was going to be about an ex-Marine in Tangiers, a place Frank had never visited but which he 'assumed was like Mexico'. In his late thirties, with the abandoned manuscript in a drawer, Frank looks back with bemusement at these efforts to sound 'hard nosed and old-eyed about things'.
This is an accurate enough diagnosis of what was wrong with Ford's first two books, A Plece of My Heart and The Ultimate Good Luck, both of which were published in Britain only in the wake of the success of his third, The Sportswriter. A Plece of My Heart was swamped by low-lit contrivances, by loading the banal with a freight of what Frank comes to call 'hard emptinesses':
(The entire section is 2332 words.)
SOURCE: "The Poetry of Real Estate," in Commonweal, Vol. CXXII, No. 17, October 6, 1995, pp. 27-8.
[In the following review, Schroth notes that although the characters of Ford's Independence Day are searching for their independence, they are actually very interconnected.]
One of my regrets about not having money is that I'll never be able to buy a house. Still, I cannot jog the oak-lined streets of Uptown New Orleans or bike up Storm King Mountain at Cornwall-on-Hudson without casing every house I pass and asking if that house is "me."
Which is why, perhaps, Richard Ford, in his new novel, Independence Day, his continuation of The Sportswriter, has moved Frank Bascombe, his narrator and protagonist, from sports magazine journalism into the real-estate business. For the realtor, if he has moved his science to the level of art, is part social historian, part character analyst. He daily redraws the line of the shifting American Frontier—charts the highways, Shop Rite malls, suburban enclaves, shrines, motels, trailer parks, and honky tonks which speckle the skin over the American soul—and matches this particular acre with its two-bedroom clapboard bungalow with this particular migrant family's dream.
When we left Frank Bascombe in Easter week six years ago, he was thirty-eight, a Haddam (Princeton), New Jersey, recently divorced father of a boy...
(The entire section is 1040 words.)
SOURCE: "Novelist's View: Real Estate and the National Psyche," in The New York Times, November 5, 1995, sec. 9, p. 7.
[In the following interview, Ford talks about the realty industry and how he used his experience with real estate agents to create the character of Frank Bascombe in Independence Day.]
When the novelist Richard Ford sees Michael Wilkinson showing French Quarter property to potential clients, he stops his car and sticks his head out the window to say hello. "I always ask him, 'Read my book yet?'" Mr. Ford said, "And he always says, 'No.'"
So much for the great relationship between literature and life. Real estate agents who read Mr. Ford's new novel Independence Day, published by Alfred A. Knopf, may think that the author is one of them. He's not. And his closest friend in real estate, Mr. Wilkinson, hasn't even read his book. But the New Orleans-based Mr. Ford says that if his protagonist, Frank Bascombe, strikes a responsive chord, the author has done his job. That he did it so well springs out of a lifelong interest.
"My father, who in many ways had come up in the world from small-town life in Arkansas, thought that looking for houses meant progress," Mr. Ford said. "When I was a little boy in Jackson, Miss., we moved into the middle of town. Later, my father began to want to move to the suburbs. So every Sunday we'd pile into the car. We...
(The entire section is 1244 words.)
SOURCE: A review of Independence Day, in America, Vol. 173, No. 19, December 9, 1995, pp. 26-7.
[In the following review, Bonner praises Ford as a storyteller and calls Ford's Independence Day "a work at the edge of philosophy but far enough away that its art still lives."]
"I was trying to address the country in as large a way as I can imagine—intellectually as well as spiritually. It was the way I defined myself a challenge," observed Richard Ford about his novel Independence Day during a New Orleans Times-Picayune interview. The mission suggested in his comments gives his fiction a life beyond the story and makes his narrative part of a tradition of consciously merging stories with ideas.
American literature through the late 19th century, as represented by Hawthorne and Melville, for example, repeatedly gives us writers engaged with balancing these elements. The works of Emerson, too, remind us that the American reading public once had a taste for the direct exploration of ideas in essays. Emerson's words and ideas emerge often in Independence Day as do those of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.
Independence Day begins with Bascombe closing up the details on a private rental, trying to close a company sale on a home, seeing his current romantic interest, preparing to...
(The entire section is 683 words.)