Independence Day

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Six years have passed since failed family man Frank Bascombe, the narrator of Richard Ford’s 1986 novel THE SPORTSWRITER, was cut loose and cast adrift into a sea of suburban, middle-aged malaise. Now, in this long-awaited sequel, Bascombe has returned, a revenant reborn, his life significantly revised, to document a weekend excursion that constitutes a search for the true meaning of independence. What Frank Bascombe finds, however, is that he is still shackled to his past. Bascombe’s desire to set things right—to strike a balance, to stake down some sense of anchorage and permanence in a country that measures and defines freedom by how many miles from home a person strays—ultimately goes unfulfilled; it backfires, blows up in his face like a firecracker with a faulty wick.

Frank Bascombe has been hailed, by critics, as a “decent man,” a man who has been shellshocked by the shortcomings of a life shipwrecked by the unexpected: by death and divorce, against which he is left alone to defend. This aloneness, the everpresent threat of solitude, the fact that we are not in this together, is the one definition of independence that Frank Bascombe is able to accommodate. Not unlike Huck Finn, who lit out for territory in search for freedom, Bascombe negotiates his metal raft down congested rivers of concrete, co-navigated by his troubled teenage son, on a holiday pilgrimage to both the basketball and baseball Halls of Fame. It is a trip that, like the...

(The entire section is 543 words.)