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The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (1986)

  1. 11
    The Accidental Tourist (abridged|Penguin Readers, level 3) by Anne Tyler (Limelite)
    Limelite: See my review below. Strongly similar novels in subject matter, characterization, and theme.
  2. 11
    An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (ateolf)
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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Frank Bascombe is entering middle age, divorced, and mourning the death of his young son a few years earlier. He lives in the fictional town of Haddam, New Jersey (which seems a lot like Princeton), working as a sportswriter largely from home or on the road, with the occasional commute into the City. He maintains a cordial relationship with his ex-wife, and regularly spends time with his children, although it's all still a bit awkward, as is the dating scene. This novel unfolds over a long Easter weekend. Frank takes his girlfriend Vicki on a business trip to Detroit to interview a sports figure, catches up with a friend over drinks and learns more than he wants to about the friend's life, and visits Vicki's parents for Easter dinner. As these events unfold, the reader learns a lot about Frank and things come to a head on Easter Sunday. When Frank is suddenly called back to Haddam to deal with a difficult situation, he has an epiphany of sorts but the book ends with Frank still in somewhat of a mid-life crisis.

This was my introduction to Richard Ford; I very much enjoyed his writing style, illuminating the small things in life in a slow, contemplative way (think Wallace Stegner or Wendell Berry). The next book in the series, Independence Day, picks up several years later and I'm interested to see what's happened to Frank in that time. ( )
  lauralkeet | Apr 9, 2017 |

Photo of the American novelist - Richard Ford

Part of the Vintage Contemporaries Series, Richard Ford’s 1986 novel, The Sportswriter, is about a divorced 38-year old suburban New Jersey writer who lives out the American dream gone sour. In some ways the story reminded me of Camus’s The Stranger. What I found particularly disturbing about the first-person narrator and main character, Frank Bascombe, was the way Frank would always project motives, backgrounds, ideas and futures onto all the people he encountered -- family, friends, strangers. It didn’t matter who you were, if you came within the view of Frank Bascombe, you were in for a layering of categories. Frank even layered his categories onto neighborhoods, towns, cities, regions and countries. It was a kind of poison.

The other disturbing thing about Frank was the way he would always tell you, the reader, that what he said to people was not what he really felt or what he really thought. In other words, Frank was incapable of saying what he meant or meaning what he said. Talk about living in a kind of hell.

At one point in the novel, Frank tells the reader the divorced men’s club, where he is a member, is composed of men who are all Babbitts, himself included. Reading Frank’s admission, I ask the question: Is life so suffocating that people can’t escape their current trap, even when they can see it as a trap? What a commentary on modern life. Frank Bascombe as a modern day Babbitt, incapable of change. To me, this sounds like a life sentence.


( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
So I finished it early yesterday evening. Read some LT reviews, then to bed. Got up at 4AM to pee; then, lying in bed an hour thinking about Frank Bascombe before able to sleep-- unless it was a dream. Reviews cited Updike, but is Rabbit so introspective? Seems more reminiscent of Fred Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, maybe with the late Ralph equivalent to Exley’s drinking issues. X (wife) maybe an Exley shout-out?
Read Ford’s Rock Springs short story collection before Sportswriter. Two comments on technique. Signature effect in RS stories was lack of explicit resolution, so not really expecting Sportswriter to have a dramatic-emotional moment in the final chapter (i.e. some Portrait of a Lady-like set piece on the death of Ralph). Not really being fair to James; the literal end of Portrait is about as open as you can get; but Ralph though. If you haven’t read Ford before, be warned. Second, whereas the voice in Henry Esmond or David Copperfield is plain spoken (for its time), Ford’s prose is so flamboyantly stylish it telegraphs the unreliable narrator a little too heavily: what sportswriter comes up with elegiac sentences like “At the far end of the ‘new part’ a small deer gazes at me where I wait. Now and then its yellow tapetums [look that one up Sports Illustrated readers] blink out of the dark toward the old part, where the trees are larger, and where three signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in sight of my son’s grave.”?
Surely the voice of Frank is not Ford with its casual period racism, classicism, sexism, ethnic bigotry, and homophobia, suburban (not vulgar) in its diction and attitude. Hard not to notice that the voice goes out of its way to identify every “Negro” encountered in Frank’s three day non-epiphany for example; the voice belongs to a white male who takes for granted he is attractive to women of all ages, owns a home in a genteel suburban enclave, has a flexible job writing (apparently with no deadlines) and plenty of expense account travel. Some LT reviewers are repelled as an unconscious recognition of their own implicit negative stereotyping, but what may be most uncomfortable is Ford’s examination of the psychology of loss; the double bind of the need to go on but only with a certain absence of empathy which we suspect and fear is essential party of our identity. I will exclude the minority of readers who feel the concern with empathy is unmanly, like a man who can’t take a punch.

Note:not planning to rate until the rest of the quartet is done (read).
  featherbear | Dec 5, 2016 |
I read this one 'after' Independence Day....and, I can now see the character development in a broader range. Good writing, nut it was a little slow-moving in parts. IT could have been 100 pages shorter. Overall, I would recommend it; but I liked Independence Day better, I look forward to reading the third installment in the series. ( )
  JosephKing6602 | Sep 18, 2016 |
“It is no loss to mankind when one writer decides to call it a day. When a tree falls in the forest, who cares but the monkeys?”

Frank Bascombe is a thirty-eight year-old sportswriter, a job he generally enjoys, a nice house in New Jersey and a younger beautiful girlfriend so you would expect things to look rosy in his life.However, he is also trying to cope bereavement, a young son, and a relatively recent divorce.

The book is essentially a first-person monologue with large sections of personal ruminations and observations - framed by 'normal' events: a trip to Detroit with his new girlfriend, Easter Sunday lunch with her family and fishing trip with the Divorced Men's Club. All the 'action' takes place over an extended Easter weekend.

For me the novel is a study of grief, both for his son and his marriage, as he struggles to find some meaning in his life but he is also a quitter. He had a book of short stories published to some acclaim but quits after that initial success, seemingly quite happy to live off that past glory, then fails to really fight to save his marriage. As such I found it hard to really like Frank and found him rather superficial supposedly like the 'jocks' he interviews. There is also quite a bit of use of brackets (often unnecessary) which stunts an already pedestrian flow.In general this is not too dissimilar to the 'Rabbit' books by John Updike but just not to the quality but then that's just my opinion. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Aug 28, 2015 |
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Richard Fordprimary authorall editionscalculated
Wiel, Frans van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
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What’s friendship’s realest measure? I’ll tell you. The amount of precious time you’ll squander on someone else’s calamities and fuck-ups.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679762108, Paperback)

It's hard to imagine a book illuminating the texture of everyday life more brilliantly, or capturing the truth of human emotions more honestly, than Ford does in his account of an alienated scribe in the New Jersey suburbs. Frank Bascombe, Ford's protagonist, clings to his almost villainous despair in a way that Walker Percy's men don't, but the book is heavily influenced by Ford's fellow southerner nonetheless. Read this and you're ready for Ford's Pulitzer Prize-winning sequel, Independence Day.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:45 -0400)

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At the beginning of his career, a young man gives up his chance to become a successful novelist in order to work as a sportswriter.

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