“No, you bet not. None of our lives is really ordinary; nothing humdrum in our delights and disasters. Everything is problematic as geometry when it’s affairs of the heart in question.” (The Sportswriter by Richard Ford)
I’ve often railed against purely likable characters, preferring characters who make no attempt to win my affections. I loath perfect characters with one minor flaw built in for ‘depth’ (clumsy being the worst of them). Instead, I’m developing a fondness for un-self-aware middle aged characters who talk to me in a meandering, personable way. A non-self-reflecting character seems perfectly designed to fascinate and outrage a reader, for our lot tend to wear ourselves ragged with being self-aware. These bumbling but ingenious men (such as Charlie Citrine or Ignatius Reilly) have a way of worming themselves into your thoughts with their sheer unfamiliarity.
It’s not that Frank Bascombe is unlikable, per say, but he makes no attempts to hide or excuse his disgraceful behavior from the reader. His unreliability as a narrator comes only in his insistence that he’s no longer mourning the death of his son, which breaks the heart, but fools no one. He charms readers not by being a good guy or doing the right thing, but by his casual tone and frank way of assessing both himself and others. In spite of a strange literary tendency for all dialogue between the men in this novel to end with a personal pronoun (for example, “I like to be outside on a day like this, Frank” “Me too, Herb”), Ford’s prose is flawlessly designed to sound like you’re just listening to your good friend, Frank Bascombe, talk about his life.
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Ending: Dissolves a little before he can rebuild himself
Further Reading: The Sportswriter is, of course, only the first book in a three part series, and it would be impossible, after getting to know Frank Bascombe, to resist hearing from him again. I’m also reading Humbolt’s Gift by Saul Bellow which is reminding me a lot of The Sportswriter, and I think is a phenomenal follow-up if you liked the quirky plot, exceptional writing, and un-self-aware middle-aged, divorced, lecherous, main character here.