The second in his trilogy of novels featuring anti-hero Frank Bascombe, 1996's Independence Day sees author Richard Ford continue in much the same vein as when we left Bascombe at the close of The Sportswriter. Time has moved on to 1986, Bascombe (now 44) has completed his divorce, is still struggling to relate to his adolescent son and daughter, has a (sometime) girlfriend Sally and has ditched his writing aspirations and career in favour of a job in real estate. As in The Sportswriter, Ford's writing is skilfully observational, incisive and witty, whilst his scope here is again personal and, on the surface at least, parochial.
Over an extended Independence Day weekend, we follow Bascombe in his continued voyage of mid-life discovery and his attempts to resolve his own internal uncertainties, both in a personal and wider, social context. By placing Frank in one of the most despised of modern day capitalist milieus (real estate), Ford is able to brilliantly dissect the associated set of human shortcomings (class snobbery, racism, sexism) and the early passages of novel as Frank shows Vermont couple, the Markhams, around their potential new home are some of my favourites. Ford also continues to show his mastery of the (significant) chance encounter and those here with, variously, a rookie cop, a Negro removals man, a female chef and a long unseen relative are all brilliantly done.
Where, for me, the novel falls slightly short is in its dealings with Bascombe's family. Although the passages relating to Frank's dealings with his ex-wife and her new husband are frequently hilarious, the novel's central tragedy concerning son Paul does not have quite the emotional punch (or resolution) that I would expect it to. This is something I found on reading The Sportswriter, that Ford, whilst being an outstandingly communicator of tales of realism, does not (quite) have the emotive power of a (for instance) Cormac McCarthy or Richard Russo.