The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The events of his life might make Frank lonely, sad, and angry, much like Walter and Herb, but unlike them, he has adjusted to pain and regret, becoming surprisingly contented. His major conflict is resisting the state he calls dreaminess, meaning giving in to self-pity and despair, much as he does immediately following Ralph’s death. The constantly self-analytical Frank posits a simple yet unsentimental optimism in numerous ways throughout the novel: “things sometimes happen for the best. Thinking that way has given me a chance for an interesting if not particularly simple adulthood.” He claims to be willing to say “yes” to almost anything life presents. One of the problems with their marriage is X’s resentment of his optimism.

Although he claims not to be searching for anything, Frank clearly longs for the stability of a traditional family. His father died when he was fourteen, and his mother treated him like a nephew. He loves his house in Haddam because it symbolizes the type of family life he seeks, even if only he and Bosobolo reside in it. Owning such a house without actually needing it provides an unusual comfort. He fantasizes about becoming part of the Arcenault family, who strike him as better than he expected. He allows himself to become addicted to mail-order catalogs, attracted not only by the products but also by “those ordinary good American faces pictured there.”

Frank refuses to see people as either heroes or villains, even when he is writing about athletes. He writes an article about Haddam for a local magazine, saying that he works best if he lives in a “neutral” place, and he seems neutral about life, though not disinterested or indifferent. He attempts to offset the perception of himself as passive by claiming that he is “always vitally interested in life’s mysteries, which are never in too great a supply.” He is open to such mysteries without seeking them out, saying that “it may simply be that at...

(The entire section is 806 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Frank Bascombe

Frank Bascombe, a thirty-eight-year-old divorced man who, twelve years earlier, turned his back on a promising literary career to become a sportswriter for a magazine based in New York. Frank took up writing at college in Michigan after a medical discharge from the Navy. In the year following his graduation, he wrote a collection of stories, Blue Autumn, that was published to favorable reviews and optioned by a film producer, giving him the financial independence to embark on a writing career in New York. There, he renewed his acquaintance with X, a woman he met at school and whom he marries. Shortly after beginning work on his second novel (his first, written in college, was rejected and lost), he found himself blocked and inexplicably unenthusiastic about his chosen profession. He took the sportswriting job as a respite from fiction writing but knew that he had lost the impetus to complete his novel and would never write fiction again. Frank’s growing disaffection with the life he chose was exacerbated several years later by the tragic death of his nine-year-old son, Ralph, from Reye’s syndrome. Ralph’s death marked the onset of Frank’s “dreaminess,” a period in which he grew increasingly estranged from X, had affairs with other women, and seemed generally lost. Since emerging from his dreaminess, Frank has come to appreciate the allure that sportswriting has for him. He believes that sports are governed by an orderliness and precision that he cannot find elsewhere in life, and that the best athletes have an admirable one-dimensionality that binds their identities to the games they play. Frank is currently dating Vicki, an earthy younger woman whose directness he finds pleasing, but he remains on good terms with X and his two children, Clarissa and Paul. Although subject to occasional anxieties, he is affable and friendly with everyone he meets and seems relatively content with his current...

(The entire section is 798 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Frank Bascombe is, at thirty-eight, a failed writer, failed husband, and perhaps a failed father. Gripped with sadness over the death of his...

(The entire section is 343 words.)