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The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (1986)

Recently added bylauralkeet, jomajime, alexa85williams, encephalical, megannishi, cctesttc1, private library, PeterSvensson
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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 |
"The Sportswriter" is the first book of a trilogy, but it wasn’t until "Independence Day"- the second book- won the Pulitzer Prize that many people, including myself, discovered Richard Ford. So having read "Independence Day" first, I felt compelled to back-track. And by the way, I was not too impressed with either book.

In a lot of ways Richard Ford’s ‘Frank Bascombe’ series reminds me of John Updike’s 'Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom’ collection… unlikable male protagonist who expresses disappointment at the hand he’s been dealt, but makes an effort to find happiness through infidelity with superficial relationships. Alienates his wife and ruins his marriage, hurts the kids, and ends up lonely and in isolation.

John Updike did it better. Rabbit was larger-than-life… a truly unforgettable character. He did many despicable things but he did them decisively. He never made excuses for his behavior. He struggled, he suffered, and he explained to the reader with great clarity, exactly what he was about and why.

Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe is vague and has a weak personality. He lacks character, conviction, and integrity. He is very self-centered, immature, superficial, and detached from everyone, including the reader. He jumps from bed to bed, declaring his love to the various women he encounters but avoids commitment at all cost. Perhaps the difference between the two characters (Frank and Rabbit) was merely a reflection of the changing times, but after reading The Sportswriter, along with Frank’s many fictional acquaintances, lovers, spouse, and children, the reader is left wondering who Frank Bascombe really is. And judging from his obscure personality, they may not want to get to know him any better.

The story might have been more enjoyable if the dialogue was more realistic. Dialogue seems to be Ford’s weak point, with most conversations grandiose in nature but both boring and abstract. In addition, speaking through the character of Frank Bascombe, it was pompous and annoying that Richard Ford lets the reader know that he feels novelists (regardless of level of failure) are far superior to magazine writers... in fact, superior to most other professions. Not that that would have any relevance on my rating, but if one cannot relate to the opinions of the author, it becomes difficult to have empathy for the characters in the story. ( )
  LadyLo | Jul 13, 2015 |
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Wiel, Frans van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
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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