The Sportswriter Essay - Critical Essays

Richard Ford

Critical Context

The Sportswriter is the novel that established Ford with critics and readers after his first two novels, though well received, sold poorly. It stands out from his other novels and stories, which feature characters who are more rootless and whose experiences are more violent and melodramatic.

Because the novel deals with the mores of contemporary American suburbia, it has been compared to the fiction of John Cheever, John Updike, and Richard Yates. Frank bears similarities to Cheever’s characters in particular, resembling a saner version of the protagonist of “The Swimmer.” For the most part, however, Ford’s milieu is more subdued than those in typical examples of this literary subgenre.

Ford’s novel stands apart from mainstream American fiction of the 1980’s in several ways. His presentation of a protagonist who finds refuge in the ordinary, stubbornly refusing to give in to despair, is an anomaly in an age emphasizing alienated, often nihilistic characters. Creations such as Frank are usually presented as naïve and foolish. The Sportswriter is also unique in portraying Frank’s optimism as stemming from his strength of character rather than from religious, political, or aesthetic values.