Book info

The Sportswriter (1995)

The Sportswriter (1995)
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Rating
3.71 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
0394743253 (ISBN13: 9780394743257)
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English
publisher
vintage books
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The Sportswriter (1995)
The Sportswriter (1995)

About book: There’s a scene in the first chapter of The Sportswriter that lays bare the novel’s heart. Frank Bascombe and his ex-wife—referred to as X throughout—arrive home from a night out to find their house ransacked. In making a list of the missing items for the police, X finds letters from another woman and demands to know who she is. Frank remains silent, and X, releasing the trapped fury created by the death of her son, her deteriorating marriage, and now the apparent infidelity of her husband, tears apart her hope chest and burns it in the fireplace. “The burglars had left Polaroid pictures of the inside of our empty house scattered about for us to find when we got back from seeing The Thirty-Nine Steps at the Playhouse, plus the words, 'We are the stuffed men,' spray-painted onto the dining room wall. Ralph had been dead two years. The children were with their grandfather at the Huron Mountain Club, and I was just back from my teaching position at Berkshire College, and was hanging around the house more or less dumb as a cashew, but otherwise in pretty good spirits. X found the letters in a drawer of my office desk while looking for a sock full of silver dollars my mother had left me, and sat on the floor and read them, then handed them to me when I came in with a list of missing cameras, radios and fishing equipment. She asked if I had anything to say, and when I didn't, she went into the bedroom and began tearing apart her hope chest with a claw hammer and a crowbar. She tore it to bits, then took it to the fireplace and burned it while I stood outside in the yard mooning at Cassiopeia and Gemini and feeling invulnerable because of dreaminess and an odd amusement I felt almost everything in my life could be subject to. It might seem that I was within myself then. But in fact I was light years away from everything.”The Sportswriter begins on Good Friday with Frank and X paying a graveside visit to their son Ralph and ends late Easter Sunday with Frank hitting on a college girl in his Manhattan office. The novel is the kind where not much happens, but everything that does rings of failure. There’s X burning her hope chest; Frank’s aborted interview with a paraplegic former footballer who believes he’s still on the team; Frank’s Easter day visit to his girlfriend’s parents’ house, where the father has assembled an entire car in the basement; the post office losing the only copy of Frank’s first novel. Then there’s Easter itself, a day in the real world where miracles never happen, no one rises from the dead, and sins remain unforgiven. Characters bump and jangle him, but Frank drifts on a lazy current he’s created, unaware of its source. It’s a careful look at a shell-shocked man who can fill hundreds of pages with insightful descriptions but never knows what to say to those who need him to say something, anything that will demonstrate his awareness of them.Among its greatest virtues is its examination of the alien world of male friendship, one in which not even the natives fully understand the customs. Through The Divorced Men's Club, men linked by their inability to maintain close relationships, Frank meets Walter Luckett. Walter confides in Frank, hoping his confession will uncover a like mind. "He would like me to ask him a good telling question, something that will then let him tell me a lot of things I don't want to know," Frank says. "But if I have agreed to listen, I have also agreed not to ask. This is the only badge of true friendship I'm sure of: not to be curious."Later, Frank is at the police station because of his tangential relationship to a crime. Speaking of the sergeant, Frank says, "He extends both his legs and crosses them at the ankles. It is his way of inviting conversation between menfolk, though I'm stumped for what to say. It's possible he would understand if I said nothing." And nothing is exactly what Frank is looking for in a friend.

I like sports, I like writing, so I figured I'd like The Sportswriter, written by acclaimed author and Pulitzer winner Richard Ford. After about 25 pages I realized that I disliked this book, and I hate-read the rest of the thing because I have a weird inability to give up on a book. Ford comes from the Richard Russo school of writing, in that he seems to think that inundating the reader with detail will somehow make the book more real, or authentic (I call it that because Russo's Empire Falls was the first book I read that I felt that way about). Case in point: all 375 pages of the novel take place over the course of one weekend. I knew I was in trouble when the opening scene, taking place over the course of maybe twenty minutes, lasted 25 pages. We get backstories and multiple-paragraph descriptions about people and places that never crop up again! Which makes me wonder why the hell I'm reading about them. I suspect Ford was going for some sort of point about the intimacy of suburbia or something, but I was just bored out of my mind. It makes me appreciate all the more writers that only include the essential and trim the fat that serves only to show off the vocabulary of the author.The second reason I disliked this book was that the main character, Frank Bascombe, suffers from the Thomas Mcguane/Julian Barnes Lack of Sack issue (more specifically, this issue should be attributed to the narrators of Driving on the Rim and Sense of an Ending, respectively). Bascombe, like those characters, is a complete and utter pushover. He wrote a successful short story collection, then moved to the suburbs and became a sportswriter. Fine, that isn't the issue. The issue is the endless descriptions of how dreamy and content Bascombe is with the suburbs. God he loves Jersey, and Michigan, and safety, and wants to kiss and marry everyone, and be polite, and go to church sometimes, and he wants you to know how okay he is with everything. It seemed like no matter what happened, he'd think, golly gee I just need a little pick me up and everything will be a-okay. Part of the reason he quit writing fiction was that he felt that fictional character's issues were unrealistic in their intensity and simplicity, and that real life is much more complex and occurs in shades of gray. And I think Ford was trying to prove that a character, or a fictional world, could also exist in those shades of gray, and still be compelling. Which I agree with in principle, but not when said character is so dreamy and vanilla all the time. It's not a good sign when your narrator keeps describing all the women he's bedded and you think, "Who would sleep with this chump?" The final nail in the coffin occurred when, in the same day that he (spoiler alert) gets punched in the face by his girlfriend for repeatedly proposing at awkward times, and attempts to make love to his ex-wife on the bed of a friend who JUST COMMITTED SUICIDE, he then seduces a 19 year old intern at his magazine (bear in mind he is a 38 year old divorced father of three). I'm supposed to root for this guy!?
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Reviews
Labmom
Awful! Self-absorbed baby boomer muses unitelligibly about life/sports. I didn't understand what the main character was talking about most of the time, the dialoge was terrible and practically incoherent. And EVERY time the main character noticed someone whose ethnicity was other than waspy, he pointed it out: The Polack football player, the Negro cabdriver (Negro? In 1986?) the Irish cop. This was anacronistic and irritating. Maybe you have to be a self-obsessed baby boomer to appreciate this book, not the child of one. Or maybe it was just so male? The ex-wife has no name - dude just refers to her as "X" throughout! And the kids, even the dead kid, are afterthoughts and barely mentioned. There was all this mention of feelings, but no real introspection or thought to justify the author's contstantly telling me dude was "dreamy," whatever that means. I hope the narcissistic baby boomer genre is over, like chick lit. Because if you are going to write about that generation and make is interesting and sympathetic, it needs to be done ironically, like Frantzen's "The Corrections."
Paul
It took me almost a month to finish Richard Ford's "The Sportswriter." I couldn't stand reading more than 5-10 pages at a time. Why? Well, I'd say that reading "The Sportswriter" is like being at a cocktail party, stuck listening to a bore whom you ordinarily avoid. But that analogy is generic enough for Ford to appreciate it, so I'll attempt the intensity he appears to loathe: reading "The Sportswriter" is like being stuck in a urologist's waiting room with a logorrheic -- boredom and irritation while anticipating nothing but pain. It's not surprising that one of this novel's biggest fans is Walker Percy, since in "The Moviegoer" (suspiciously similar title) Percy created the same kind of protagonist who inhabits (but does not live in) the pages of "The Sportswriter" - the impulsive dullard. Frank Bascombe, the eponymous Sportswriter, spends 350 pages doing stupid things like stalking his ex-wife, proposing to a girlfriend whom he doesn't like very much, and jumping random trains to New York, with no forethought or afterthought. This would be tolerable if the stream of consciousness that constitutes the narrative portrayed Bascombe as recognizably disturbed or even human, but it doesn't -- the man seems to think in platitudes and offers some trite lesson on every other page (" . . . is the best that any of us can hope for"). Similarly unhelpful is Ford's predictable prose style. The length and rhythm of his sentences almost never vary, they're mostly two-clause, semi-complex sentences that cluster into mid-length paragraphs of no particular point or direction. Is Ford trying to portray anomie, or is he just a lousy writer? There's reason to believe that he's making a conscious attempt to portray a man who is detached from his own emotions, since Bascombe divorced his wife after the death of their oldest son. There's also reason to believe that Ford is just a very limited writer, since on the night Bascombe's wife discovers his infidelities, she sets fire to her . . . oh, Jesus . . . hope chest. It would be sledgehammer symbolism if Ford could summon enough energy to wield a sledgehammer. There is also Bascombe's curiously dated, borderline racist language. I don't remember much unironic use of the word "negro" in the 1980s, but it's how Bascombe describes every black character. Is Ford depicting an anachronistic way of thinking, or is he just a tin-eared jerk? I'm too willing to believe the latter, since his characters don't speak like normal human beings, they speak like overly self-aware literary cliches ("you're an awful man, Frank! You weren't awful when we were married, but you've gotten much worse"). "The Sportswriter" proves, through negative example, the maxim that novelists should avoid the word "all," since Ford uses it in, well, all the worst ways, including lazy descriptions ("like all hometown suburbs") and obnoxious generalizations ("all writers want this"). Regarding the latter, Bascombe, and by extension Ford, jumps to conclusions about every single person he sees, reducing them to two-dimensional sketches ("she's named either Jan or Kate and reads Roosevelt biographies") with no interiority whatsoever. These presumptions are studded with assumptions about social status and geographic origin that are supposed to be economical storytelling but are just lazy crutches. Plus, I'm predisposed to hate books in which the protagonist is an ex-fratboy who seems familiar every other male character's former Greek status. I mean, who the f--k cares? I sure as hell didn't. Damn, I hated this book.
Lise
I saw you put Let Me Be Frank With You on your to-read list, Lise. Frank is an interesting guy to read about in all the different stages of his life. Hope you enjoy that one, too.
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