Let Me Be Frank with You

By Richard Ford

(HarperCollins, $27.99, 256 pages)

Who is this author?

Richard Ford, born in the South but now living in Boothbay, Maine with his wife, got lucky when the magazine Inside Sports folded in the 1980s, leaving him without a job. Previously a novelist, he began a new one inspired by his magazine experience: The Sportswriter, about a guy named Frank Bascombe.  A huge popular and critical success in 1986, it was followed by the best-selling sequels Independence Day (the first novel to win a Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award) and The Lay of the Land. Ford also wrote several story collections. Let Me Be Frank with You may be the final Bascombe book, but Ford’s fans hope not.

What is this book about?

Frank Bascombe, whose milieu is suburban New Jersey, is Ford’s triumphant creation: an Everyman for our times. Like Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman and John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, Bascombe is an iconic character who brilliantly reflects – and reflects on – his generation (which for many of us, is our generation, too.) He’s wry, cranky, smart, outspoken and intuitive, and he speaks with a voice that is almost too realistic. The book is not exactly a novel, nor a collection of stories. It is four linked novellas that bring Frank, at 68, through the horrors (and lingering aftershocks) of Hurricane Sandy and the crash of the real estate market, as well as  the sad realities of aging and illness and flawed and failed marriages. Grim stuff, but Frank has the sardonic wit to survive it, and to bring us along. He is not a perfect man, but he is the perfect man to tell these stories.

Why you’ll like it:

Sit back, relax, turn the pages: you are in the sure hands of a master storyteller. Ford has no need to play with novelistic innovations and literary folderol: he just lets Frank be, well, frank with us. We are all familiar with the recent upheavals of the real estate, financial and political climates, not to mention of the climate itself, but with Frank as our savvy, if sometimes a tad bewildered, guide, this book give us the chance to relive it with the perspective that a few years’ time and a lifetime of experience can offer.

What others are saying:


Publishers Weekly says: “Frank Bascombe, the protagonist of The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land, continues to reflect on the meaning of existence in these four absorbing, funny, and often profound novellas. The collection is set in New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2012. Frank considers the evanescence of life as he travels to the site of his former home on the shore; has an unsettling experience with a black woman whose family once lived in his present home in fictional Haddam; visits his prickly ex-wife, who is suffering from Parkinson’s, in an extended-care institution; and meets a dying former friend. At 68, Frank feels “old”; his bout with prostate cancer has convinced him that he’s in the “Default Period of life.” Intimations of mortality (“the bad closing in”) permeate his musings, recounted in an unadorned, profane, vernacular that conveys his witty, cynical voice. Frank’s cranky comments and free-flowing meditations about current social and political events are slyly juxtaposed with references to Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Trollope, Emerson, Milton, and others. Despite Frank’s dyspeptic outlook, Ford packs in a surprising amount of affirmation and redemption. Readers who met Frank in Ford’s earlier novels will quickly reconnect with his indelible personality.

An Amazon Best Book of the Month review for November 2014 says: It’s been eight years since we last saw Frank Bascombe, successfully selling real estate in New Jersey, easing into his mid-50s at the conclusion of Richard Ford’s celebrated trilogy. Ford clearly had more to say about his man Frank. In the four connected novellas that comprise the touching and humorous Let Me Be Frank With You —like a coda to the trilogy—we see Frank confronting his aging self and, at the same time, a New Jersey coastline recently ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. In some ways, he’s the same old Frank: an admitted “malcontent,” cranky and kvetching, but funny and, mostly, a good guy. Speaking of being frank, I must admit: as a fan of the trilogy (especially the first two), I was doubtful that I’d care about the first-world problems of rich and retired Frank Bascombe, now on the verge of 70. But there’s a creeping sadness that infuses these stories, and a little bit of rage, as in raging against the dying light.  . . . In the end, the ride of life is often a waiting game. Says Frank: “Time fixes things, mostly.”

In the The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani writes: “. . . Let Me Be Frank With You] serves as an apt vitrine for Mr. Ford’s talents: his journalistic eye for the revealing detail, his knack for tracing the connections between the public and the personal, his gift for capturing the precariousness of daily life…the fact that Let Me works as well as it does is a testament to Mr. Ford’s strengths as a writer and his ability to turn his hero’s contradictions and discontinuities into something more like the genuine complexities of a real human being.”

Says Kirkus Reviews: “The novelist returns with his favorite protagonist for a coda that is both fitting and timely.  . . In comparison to the other volumes in what had been known as “The Bascombe Trilogy”—and to Ford’s most recent novel, the masterful Canada (2012)—this is a short, formalistic work. Each of its four chapters could stand as a story on its own, featuring Frank’s meditations on odd encounters with someone from his past, now that he has settled into the detachment of retirement from the real estate racket. “[W]hat I mostly want to do is nothing I don’t want to do,” he explains, though he somehow finds himself commiserating with the guy who bought his house, destroyed by the recent Hurricane Sandy; the wife who became his ex three decades ago; and a former friend who is on his deathbed. While President Barack Obama, the hurricane and the bursting of the real estate bubble provide narrative signposts, not much really happens with Frank, which suits Frank just fine. He finds himself facing the mortal inevitability by paring down—ridding himself of friends, complications, words that have become meaningless. As he says, “I’d say it’s a simple, good-willed, fair-minded streamlining of life in anticipation of the final, thrilling dips of the roller-coaster.” Until then, what he experiences is “life as teeming and befuddling, followed by the end.” Over the course of his encounters, there are a couple of revelations that might disturb a man who felt more, but plot is secondary here to Frank’s voice, which remains at a reflective remove from whatever others are experiencing. Another Bascombe novel would be a surprise, but so is this—a welcome one.”

The Barnes & Noble Review says: “There’s something to be said for a good no-nonsense hurricane, to bully life back into perspective,” Frank says early on, pondering the “climatological shit train” that Sandy represents. He’d sold off his former coastal home, the one where he absorbed a gunshot wound at the climax of The Lay of the Land, and its new owner has summoned Frank to consider the wreckage. Damage assessment, both literally and figuratively, is the theme of the new book — in the two weeks before Christmas, he’ll hear his home’s former occupant relate a mortally tragic tale; visit his first, now ailing wife in a lavish but mortality-suffused retirement home; and grudgingly visit a distant friend on his deathbed. Every Bascombe novel thrives on the absurd disconnect between Frank’s pat sophistry and his real life: His patter about good parenting came undone when his son got whomped by a batting-cage fastball, and his pleas for civil political discourse couldn’t keep him out of a bar fight. Now, though, the dark humor is more elegiac. Frank, once a guy who could take a slug to the chest, is now just barely capable of handling his ex-wife’s Parkinson’s.

Ford’s great stroke as a novelist has come through giving us a narrator who is, at least half the time, full of horsehockey, yet making him a compelling narrator nonetheless; you’re buoyed on the sheer force of Frank’s know-it-all-persona  . . .”

When is it available?

I’ll be frank with you: it’s at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Dwight branch.

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