Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Review: Perchance to dream

I want to apologize for titling my review with a Shakespeare quote—allow me the brief guilty pleasure. I always wonder how I would react to a book if I had read it at a different time. I usually promise to a read a book again—especially if a season plays an important role in a novel—but with all of the literature in print I rarely follow through. And even tougher are the promises to read stories later in life. After spending a weekend with Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, I know I should read this again in 20 years because it will make a lot more sense. I hope I follow through because this is a great book that will only get better.

Frank Bascombe is a dreamer. He tells his life story over the course of a somewhat eventful Easter weekend. Beginning on a quiet Friday morning, Frank approaches the gravestone of his deceased son. He waits for his ex-wife who shares this yearly ritual with him. From this moment until Sunday evening, Frank drifts between reality and daydream recalling most of the formative moments from his life.

Ford weaves dreams into the narrative so effortlessly that one often forgets what the original time period is. The majority of the story involves little of the present. Instead we witness the vivid memories in Frank’s mind. More importantly, we understand that what exists in the present seems to be of little concern to our narrator. Perhaps that is the chief cause of his downfall.

I read this after having read its Pulitzer prize-winning sequel Independence Day last year. I can’t remember much of a difference between the two—besides the obvious plot changes—but Ford’s storytelling remained true between both books. Despite reading them out of order, I can certainly say the two exist as one piece. There is a third story out there, but I’ve yet to read that one; if anyone has I would love to hear some opinions.

The language and craft existed on the page, but I never had a connection with the characters. I know full well that at 40 years I will understand Frank’s plight, but at present I just couldn’t connect with him or any other character. But that shouldn’t deter people from reading this wonderfully potent novel. If you are middle-aged (or an old soul) make sure to pick up The Sportswriter and Independence Day.

A side note: I was suggested Independence Day during a search for road novels as I was about to embark on a cross-country trip. Though I think the novel never fulfilled my expectations of a road story (e.g. On the Road) it did travel along a winding path through the narrator’s thoughts. What are your expectations for a road novel? And what are some interesting variations of “the road novel” that you’ve read? We’d all probably be better to ignore novels with the word “road” already in the title.


Elena said...

haha I better not mention a certain Cormac McCarthy novel then....

I do go straight to the Beat literature when I'm going on a roadtrip, it gets me into a strange uncaring, free sense of adventure.

On the flipside of that, I'll grab Ben Elton because he's a guaranteed laugh.

Salvatore said...

For some reason I would never have guessed that Ford writes in this manner. It's hard to find someone who fluidly goes back and forth in time in contemporary American fiction like that. And one that's successful with critics and readers. I'm definitely curious.

Good to know about Ben Elton. Maybe I'll give him a read.

As for road literature, you know I have a taste of the awful when it comes to that...

Heather said...

*note to self* Do not read Richard Ford until you are at least 45. Maybe even 50.

Great review Kari. You did a great job of listing the good parts of the book and your problems with it. I think a large part of my enjoyment of books is character connections. I really enjoy books where I get that and struggle with ones I don't.

Kari said...

Colin wrote it! I'll just say thanks from him.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads-up - I'll wait a couple of years before letting this one wash over me.

As for traveling literature, I tend to read about folks who move mentally and emotionally rather than physically.