(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In this first-person narrative, thirty-eight-year-old Frank Bascombe examines the tragedies and disappointments in his life without self-pity. Fascinated equally by the vast spectacle of life and the most mundane aspects of daily existence, Frank is satisfied by the choices life offers and the decisions he has made.

A few years out of the University of Michigan, Frank publishes a well-received book of short stories, marries a beautiful woman he refers to only as “X,” and settles into a typical suburban existence in Haddam, New Jersey, midway between New York City and Philadelphia. Unable to generate the inspiration and motivation to continue writing fiction, Frank abandons literature to write for a national sports magazine. This life remains placid until nine-year-old Ralph, the oldest of his three children, dies from Reye’s syndrome. A few years later, his marriage breaks up, and X becomes a teaching golf professional at the local country club. The breakup is initiated by X’s discovery of letters written to Frank by a lonely woman he met on one of his sportswriting trips but with whom he has not had an affair. The Sportswriter opens with Frank and X meeting at Ralph’s grave, as they do each year on his birthday. He begins to read Theodore Roethke’s “Meditation,” but X says she does not like or believe the poem: “Sometimes I don’t think anyone can be happy anymore.” The novel is essentially about Frank’s belief not in the possibility of happiness but the necessity of it.

In the house where his family once lived happily, Frank lives alone except for Bosobolo, his boarder, a seminary student from Africa, while X and his two children live across town. X has...

(The entire section is 702 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Sportswriter is a highly acclaimed example of contemporary realistic fiction. In its exploration of the life of Frank Bascombe, a sort of suburban Everyman, the novel explores the ways in which occupation, environment, and the relationships that men have or lose define them to others and to themselves. Like Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer (1961), to which it has often been compared, The Sportswriter depicts the search for meaning and identity toward the end of the twentieth century.

After an abortive literary career, Frank Bascombe is now a sportswriter for a glossy national sports magazine. His life in the New Jersey suburb of Haddam (modeled after Princeton, where Ford once taught) is not an unpleasant one, although he has come unhitched from his previous moorings. He is divorced; his wife is referred to only as “X” in Frank’s narration. He has lost his son Ralph at age nine to illness. Despite Frank’s love for “X” and his regret for the failure of their marriage, he is now forced to define himself as divorced, and his membership in the Divorced Men’s Club, a group of similarly stricken males, symbolizes the loss of one of his most significant identities. Ralph’s death and Frank’s insubstantial relationship with his remaining children symbolize another loss, while his listless romance with Vicki, a nurse he met in the emergency room, represents a final example of Frank’s shifting and indistinct...

(The entire section is 450 words.)