The Sportswriter Additional Summary

Richard Ford


(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.)


(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.)