Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A central issue of Independence Day—“staying the course, holding the line, riding the cyclical nature of things”—is a recurrent concern of most of Ford’s novel-length fiction. Frank’s efforts to survive and adjust to life’s ups and downs are prefigured in the personal dramas of experience and the wisdom it imparts from which A Piece of My Heart (1976), The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), and The Sportswriter (1986) are built. The novel also represents a culmination of the first-person narrative techniques that Ford perfected in his collection of short fiction Rock Springs (1987).

Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1997. The novel typifies a trend in contemporary fiction of locating in the quiet struggles of ordinary lives the substance of powerful drama. Set on the Fourth-of-July weekend and laced with references to current events, modern history, and American literature, the novel universalizes the moments of its protagonist’s personal life. Frank Bascombe’s evolution over the course of the two novels in which he has been featured—Independence Day and The Sportswriter—put him in the same class as John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom and Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman: a series character whose growth and development over time serves as a touchstone for exploring fundamental aspects of contemporary American experience.