Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702
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 adjusted to divorce much better than Frank, who thinks he is in love with Vicki Arcenault, a nurse, while wanting his wife (and normalcy) back at the same time. Despite telling himself he does not need such solace, Frank attends meetings of the Divorced Men’s Club. One of the members, the pathetic Walter Luckett, whose wife has run off to Bimini with a water-skiing instructor, tries to force his friendship on Frank, who uneasily resists any intimacy, especially after Walter confesses a recent homosexual encounter with a business acquaintance.
Frank takes Vicki with him to Detroit, where he is to interview Herb Wallagher, a paraplegic former professional football player. Frank enjoys writing inspirational stories about the courage of athletes, but Herb, given to violent mood swings because of his medication, refuses to be a source of inspiration to anyone, preferring to seethe in self-pity. Back in Haddam, he finds the persistent Walter waiting. Unable to help himself, Walter wants some gesture of understanding from the sportswriter. Too tired for sympathy, Frank is shocked when the departing Walter kisses him on the cheek.
Frank’s relationship with Vicki, whom he tells himself he loves and wants to marry, is already fragile before he spends Easter with her down-to-earth father, sullen brother, and effervescent stepmother, whom she jealously resents. As the day progresses, Vicki grows increasingly annoyed with Frank. Even news of Walter’s suicide does not make her view him more sympathetically, and as he leaves, she punches him in the mouth.
Frank returns to Haddam to find the police suspicious of homosexual overtones related to Walter’s death. Frank gets permission to visit Walter’s apartment and convinces X to accompany him. While there, he attempts to seduce his ex-wife, who is repelled by the desperate absurdity of his suggestion. Frank goes to the local commuter train station to calm himself by watching his fellow suburbanites arrive home.
Seeing a woman he mistakes for Walter’s sister arriving from Ohio, he flees to Manhattan and the camaraderie of the magazine staff gathered to complete...
(The entire section contains 1152 words.)
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