Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 2: Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford

I’m a reading completist. I did not realize completist was a word until I typed this review.  I felt it’s appropriate for my latest Wisdom From Kammbia review.

In 2015, I read and wrote a review for The Sportswriter by Richard Ford, the first Frank Bascombe novel. I wrote that I hated the protagonist and thought I would not read the rest of the books in the series.

“I must admit that Frank Bascombe was the most unlikable character I had read since Sarah Worth in John Updike’s novel S. Frank’s a cad and a callous human being to the people in his life.  However, Ford’s strength as a writer keep me interested to see how Frank’s life would turn out.”

That paragraph was from my review of The Sportswriter and summed up my feelings about the novel. A year later, I picked up a copy of Independence Day, the second Frank Bascombe novel and read it.  I could not put it down and reviewed that one too.  It hooked me into the series with Independence Day and looked forward to reviewing The Lay of the Land, the third Frank Bascombe novel.

I had planned to stop after The Lay of the Land. However, I kept running across Let Me Be Frank With You over the past couple of years and even bought a copy or two only to donate them to the library.

Let me repeat….I’m a reading completist.

I went to the library a week ago and read the opening pages of Let Me Be Frank With You and I knew I would review it.

Let Me Be Frank With You is a collection link of four interlinked novellas that chronicles Frank Bascombe’s life as he reaches his late sixties.  (The Sportswriter covered his thirties. Independence Day covered his forties. The Lay of the Land covered his fifties.) The stories take place after the devastation of what Hurricane Sandy did to the New Jersey coast. Bascombe reflects on his life and the damage those choices caused at this late stage in his life.

Frank is quite the observer of modern American life and has colorful opinions on politics (he’s liberal), race (born a Southerner and uses outdated terms for blacks as Negroes), religion (he’s not religious…but does not hate religious folk), and the libido (he thinks about sex often). I will admit his views on those various subjects made me dislike the character as a young man in The Sportswriter but now as a man nearing seventy in Let Me Be Frank With You, I have accepted and appreciated his candor about American culture. I know for some readers, Frank’s views about American culture would be a turnoff from reading the entire Frank Bascombe series.  However, I believe Richard Ford has crafted one of great literary characters in modern American fiction and should be a must for readers of literary fiction.

In this collection, two of the four stories struck an emotional chord with me.  The second novella, Everything Could Be Worse, is a story about an African American female history teacher—a stranger—who used to live in Frank’s house in Haddam shows up to reveal a startling bit of history about the house. Frank invites her to the home and during the conversation he learns a dark secret from the woman about what happened to her family in the home.  It was one of the most powerful scenes I have ever read.

The last novella, Deaths of Others, is a story about Frank reluctantly visiting an old buddy, Eddie, who’s on his deathbed. Eddie lives in a mansion and cajoles Frank into visiting him. Frank agrees to visit and Eddie admits to an event that happened in Frank’s past and it felt like a gut-punch to the stomach.  I have to admit that Eddie’s admission surprised as a reader and Frank’s reaction was not what I expected.

I’m glad and sad simultaneously that I have finished the Frank Bascombe books. Even though, I’m more of a fantasy reader, I appreciate this detour from my normal reading highway and can recognize it as one of the best book series I have ever read. Frank Bascombe is a literary descendant of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom but has carved its own place in modern American fiction.  Highly recommended.

 

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