(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.)

The Sportswriter Summary

(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.)

The Sportswriter Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

It is early on Good Friday morning, and Frank Bascombe is waiting for the arrival of his former wife, whom he refers to as X. Today is the anniversary of the death of their oldest son, Ralph. Bascombe and X try to mark the sad date, but X does not want to hear the poem that Bascombe brought with him to read today. Bascombe recalls an event that signaled the end of their marriage—a small fire his wife used to burn letters he had received from a woman in Kansas. He reflects on the changes he has seen in his former wife over the four years since their son’s death and the two years since their divorce.

Later this morning, Bascombe meets up with Vicki Arcenault, his girlfriend. She is set to accompany him on his sportswriting assignment, which is to fly to Detroit, Michigan, and interview Herb Wallagher, a former professional football player who lives at Walled Lake. He had been an offensive lineman, and he was paralyzed in a boating accident after he had retired from football. Bascombe hopes to write an inspirational story about Wallagher, who is planning to start law school. Following the quick trip, the couple plan an Easter dinner with Arcenault’s father and stepmother.

During the flight, Bascombe is troubled by events of the previous day. The local Divorced Men’s Club, to which he belongs, had gone on a fishing trip. As Bascombe had tried to leave, fellow member Walter Luckett persuaded him to have a drink first. They had an odd conversation, as Luckett hinted at and then avoided discussing what bothered him. Luckett asked Bascombe if Bascombe had anyone to confide in. After Luckett noted that Bascombe has problems with confession, Luckett revealed that he had had a sexual encounter with a married man the night before. Though Luckett wanted someone to talk to, Bascombe hurried off to watch the house of his former wife and children from his car in the dark. While there he had a conversation with his ten-year-old son, Paul, who was launching a pigeon with a mission to speak to Paul’s dead older brother, Ralph.

Things do not go well in Detroit, either. Bascombe’s interview with Wallagher fails. Though the plan was to write an optimistic feature story about a man triumphing over the physical challenges of his disabilities, including using a wheelchair, Bascombe finds Wallagher angry and having thoughts of violence. His moods swing from deep sadness to anger, relating dreams of strangling people. He insults Bascombe after the writer suggests that his feature is to be a story about cheerfully overcoming life’s challenges; Bascombe...

(The entire section is 1052 words.)

The Sportswriter Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Sportswriter is one of Ford’s most acclaimed novels, the one that firmly established him as a major American writer. Ford asserts that the novel was written in answer to his wife’s question, “Why don’t you write a book about someone happy?” His intention was to produce a protagonist without irony who always says what he believes. Frank Bascombe is a failed novelist turned sportswriter, which he thinks of as not “a real profession but more of an agreeable frame of mind, a way of going about things rather than things you exactly do or know.”

The “sport” of this novel is life itself, with the games grown-up boys play employed as metaphors for actions and ideas much more important than weekend pursuits in stadiums and gymnasiums. The Sportswriter bears some resemblance to Walker Percy’s Christian existential fiction, although Ford denies any religious intention. Frank is an “anticipator” who dwells in the realm of possibilities, a typical trait of southerners, according to Percy. Frank is also a man who values life for its own sake, despite the despair that is part of it, and who puts a premium on mystery, that element of life one cannot explain. Though he is a decent man, his life would be judged by many standards to be a failure: His marriage ended in divorce, his current love affair is on the rocks, two previous careers have been unsuccessful, and his choice of sportswriting as a substitute is almost...

(The entire section is 439 words.)