Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations 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.)