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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank enters the Permanent Period
Lay of the Land is the third novel in which Richard Ford charts the life of Frank Bascombe. Frank is now in his fifties, and is a realtor (an estate agent) on the coast of New Jersey. He is in his second marriage and in the throes of what he calls the "Permanent Period", that stage of life where most things that can go wrong have already gone wrong, and where generally...
Published on 17 Jun 2007 by A Common Reader

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars such twaddle
Unremittingly verbose and tedious..do we really need to know all the route numbers of the roads he travels?.Completely self centred and full of unnecessary maunderings. I cannot believe that people talk to one another as in his dialogues. I am afraid I skip read all three novels...and thank heaven for Kindle to translate all the Americanisms. Funny....I don't think so,...
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank enters the Permanent Period, 17 Jun 2007
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
Lay of the Land is the third novel in which Richard Ford charts the life of Frank Bascombe. Frank is now in his fifties, and is a realtor (an estate agent) on the coast of New Jersey. He is in his second marriage and in the throes of what he calls the "Permanent Period", that stage of life where most things that can go wrong have already gone wrong, and where generally speaking things don't get messed up any more - at least in the catastrophic way that earlier stages are subject too.

Needless to say, the Permanent Period turns out to be no protection from family squalls and rifts, and even second marriages, seemingly so settled can go badly and unexpectedly wrong. And then there's always prostate cancer, to make sure that Frank has to make adjustments to those areas of his life so far unaffected.

The charm of this novel, like its predecessors, is that nothing much happens. Frank is allowed to tell his story in his usual meandering way. A trip into town can give rise to pages of observations and reflections, somewhat in the way of W G Sebald, or even Marcel Proust. What makes this work is that Frank has a wondrously philosophical attitude to life, not one that insulates him from problems, but one which enables him to interpret them and live through them in an almost Buddhist way, where trouble is rarely confronted full on, but rather side-stepped and averted by Frank's huge tolerance and patience. The reader finds him/herself drifting along with Frank, and can find himself saying, hey, this approach might work with me too, if only I wasn't so uptight and frantic. Richard Ford has cast Frank's real-estate assistant as a Tibetan Buddhist immigrant, called (unusually) Mike Mahoney. It is interesting to see as the book develops, that maybe Frank is the better Buddhist than this disciple of the Dalai Llama.

Frank is a completely believable character, and although the book only covers a period of a few days, it is full of incidents that show how Frank deals with his family and friends. By the end, readers will have learned a lot about what makes him tick, and maybe like me, they will think that Frank may be quite a good guy to know, and maybe they could learn something about dealing with the huge amounts of stuff that has to be dealt with in the course of a fairly routine life. Highly recommended - if you like this kind of thing, and I do.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank is Rich, 12 Nov 2007
By 
Mr. W. James Mcateer "Jim McAteer" (Ilford, Essex UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
Proof (if proof were needed) that Ford can be bracketed with Roth, Bellow and Updike as exponents of the extended 20th century Great American Novel. On meeting, Ford's southern charm is evident, but his famously prickly hubris and hauteur has made him less prolific than his forebears and contemporaries. Though his recent 'Women with Men' garnered deservedly mixed reviews, here, with the effort evident on each page, Ford delivers one of the most enjoyable and insightful books of the last decade. There is an original use of language and phraseology, a modernity which to some extent alienates us from his 60ish narrator but distances Ford from his competition.

Frank (ex-'Sportswriter') Bascombe is not - as Ford rightly denies - an alter ego, though both live on the East Coast and are comfortably late middle-aged. Frank now is seriously wealthy, rocketing property prices inflating the value of both his NJ shore real estate business and his own ocean view mansion. Counterpointing this are continuing unresolved issues, this novel being set (like the Faulkner / Pulitzer winning 'Independence Day') around a traditional holiday where Frank's age and sentimentalism augurs a crisis.

Frank's prolonged internal soliloquy takes up most of the wordage. It contains some of the most sublime self-consciousness, and self-deception. He is successful, gung-ho and energetic. Money is made and lost almost carelessly. But while he has a peripatetic business partner, his life partners are estranged, and his children distant and bewildering. His failing health is a critical subtext: Frank has prostate cancer (treatable). But there are references to heart murmurs and palpitations, which are less evidence of coronary disease, rather unacknowledged stress and incipient nervous disorder and potential breakdown.

All considered, it is a better novel than 'Independence Day'. The odd denouement detracts a little from this wonderful book; but one reads to the end, which is Ford's stated invocation of success as a writer. In part because the end is unsatisfying, tetralogy beckons: Merry Christmas Mr Bascombe? Bascombe at Rest?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Lay of Middle Age, 20 Aug 2008
By 
Leyla Sanai "leyla" (glasgow) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
The Lay of the Land is the third and final in the Frank Bascombe trilogy by Richard Ford. Frank is now 55 but still as introspective and self indulgent as ever. Life has moved on, and as well as his first ex-wife Ann he now has a second, Sally, who has flown the nest under bizarre circumstances. Frank has done well from real estate and is now comfortably off in financial terms, but he is as wrapped up in himself as ever. He has had a health fright which haunts him, and ponders endlessly about his life.

The novel spans a few days around Thanksgiving in 2000 at the New Jersey shore where Frank now lives.
His two adult children - his adored daughter Clarissa and his socially awkward son Paul - are due round for Thanksgiving dinner with their respective partners. Frank is tying up loose ends before Thanksgiving: seeing to some business with his real estate employee Mike Mahoney, meeting with Ann, doing his good deed bit as a Sponsor (a sort of pop in pop out Samaritan for those whose angst is mild rather than of suicidal proportions). And since Frank has an impending visit to the Mayo Clinic shortly after Thanksgiving, where his health problem (treatable prostatic cancer) will be reviewed, these few days also serve as time to remenesce about his life and revisit old haunts.

As with the previous two novels in the Frank Bascombe series, it is difficult to ascertain how much of Frank's often long-winded self absorption is intended to be staggeringly me-me-me obsessed and how much Richard Ford feels is normal or even admirable. At over 700 pages, the novel is long and it takes time to get into the self-mulling style of it; to adapt to Frank-think where every part of his life is analyzed, categorized and labelled, but in a peculiarly un self-critical way. Reading this, I was struck - as I was with The Sportswriter before it - at the way in which Frank's obsession with his own life is devoid of both self criticism and humour. It seems amazing to me that a middle-aged person can dwell so unremittingly on himself and his own life with no sense of irony. If anyone I know seriously presented their life as capital lettered interludes such as The Permanent Period, The Middle Way and so on, their friends would quickly slag their self importance out of them. This is not to say that the cultural difference between Ford's world and many Brits is due to lack of empathy on our side - as readers I think Brits are always ready to emote and empathise with those in real emotional or physical straits, including those trapped in their own lives due to endogenous depression rather than 'real' physical or mental hardship. But Frank's navel gazing seems devoid of any real melancholy; it's almost flat in affect, which makes it difficult to sympathise or empathise with him.
Add to that the fact that Frank has other unattractive character traits - he is rude and patronizing to his Tibetan employee Mike, stomps all over Mike's career prospects with no remorse or apology, and, in a chance encounter with a stranger with whom he could easily have extended the comfort of kinship (a man who, like Frank, had lost a son), he doesn't even consider offering this tiny balm. Frank is not only self obsessed but selfish with it, which makes for a character to whom it's hard to warm.

Yet The Lay of the Land is one of those slow burners that one grows into. For the first hundred pages or so, I was rolling my eyes at the creeping pace, many meanders down sidetracks such as real estate prices, and lack of event, but, as with The Sportswriter, I eventually locked into pace with the novel. There are times when Ford is funny, and he is always a master of language - not someone who beguiles with flashes of brilliance, but a writer who consistently delivers good quality prose. And towards the end of the book, events do start to occur outside of Frank's head, and Ford conveys these effortlessly and convincingly, in the matter-of-fact way that a stolid guy like Frank would experience them.

The Lay of the Land, then, is one of those unusual books which takes a while to get into because of its concentration on very ordinary preoccupations, but which becomes engrossing in the way that only very well expressed normality can be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank is Rich, 10 May 2007
By 
Mr. W. James Mcateer "Jim McAteer" (Ilford, Essex UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Hardcover)
Proof (if proof were needed) that Ford can be bracketed with Roth, Bellow and Updike as exponents of the extended 20th century Great American Novel. On meeting, Ford's southern charm is evident, but his famously prickly hubris and hauteur has made him less prolific than his forebears and contemporaries. Though his recent 'Women with Men' garnered deservedly mixed reviews, here, with the effort evident on each page, Ford delivers one of the most enjoyable and insightful books of the last decade. There is an original use of language and phraseology, a modernity which to some extent alienates us from his 60ish narrator but distances Ford from his competition.

Frank (ex-'Sportswriter') Bascombe is not - as Ford rightly denies - an alter ego, though both live on the East Coast and are comfortably late middle-aged. Frank now is seriously wealthy, rocketing property prices inflating the value of both his NJ shore real estate business and his own ocean view mansion. Counterpointing this are continuing unresolved issues, this novel being set (like the Faulkner / Pulitzer winning 'Independence Day') around a traditional holiday where Frank's age and sentimentalism augurs a crisis.

Frank's prolonged internal soliloquy takes up most of the wordage. It contains some of the most sublime self-consciousness, and self-deception. He is successful, gung-ho and energetic. Money is made and lost almost carelessly. But while he has a peripatic business partner, his life partners are estranged, and his children distant and bewildering. His failing health is a critical subtext: Frank has prostate cancer (treatable). But there are references to heart murmurs and palpitations, which are less evidence of coronary disease, rather unacknowledged stress and incipient nervous disorder and potential breakdown.

All considered, it is a better novel than 'Independence Day'. The odd denouement detracts a little from this wonderful book; but one reads to the end, which is Ford's stated invocation of success as a writer. In part because the end is unsatisfying, tetralogy beckons: Merry Christmas Mr Bascombe? Bascombe at Rest?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Human Condition, 10 Mar 2009
By 
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
I've just spent a most engrossing, amusing and rewarding week in the company of Richard Ford and this novel. The narrative flows along in familiar Ford style and fans of the first two Bascombe books will be delighted with this.
Bascombe himself is 55 years old, outwardly successful but inside beset by worries about health, death, women, children and modern-day standards of behaviour and political life in the country he loves.
He is a Democrat but is a mess of smug, racist, sexist and snobbish attitudes inside. He has a habit of pigeon-holing people he meets according to these prejudices. In other words he's like a lot of us.
Importantly, he tries to treat others with consideration and often receives poor treatment in return. It's this essential bravery in trying to be good despite his problems that comes through in the end.
I hope there is another Bascombe along one day. I laughed out loud at times reading this book - always a good sign - and felt moved too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars last and best, 8 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
The third and final instalment in the life of Frank Bascombe - and much the most enjoyable. Frank's moral shortcomings as husband (first instalment) and father (second instalment) are in the past. He goes in for a little drink driving, but that's about the extent of his misbehaviour this time round. Philosophically, Frank is now hovering between his "Permanent Period" and "the Next Level" - and this is as interesting as ever. And while this is still a three day trek through a US holiday period, this time round the plotting keeps readers on their toes - it's all skilful, unexpected and yet somehow "right".

Strongly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My kind of guy, 26 Mar 2008
By 
Iain Clark "Peace and Quiet" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
I wasn't always sure what was going on for Frank Bascombe in this book and sometimes I stopped to ask myself why I was enjoying these 700+ pages so much. I think it was to do with the fact that I like this man. I felt when I had finished that a friend of mine had moved away to another country. Exactly my age, I was glad to see that one of my contemporaries had some of the bewilderment which seems to be a part of my own life. Slow, gentle, thoughtful. This book took me through the first part of a wet, Scottish winter! Much needed. I could have gone on for another 300 pages.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, funny, poignant, and highly recommended, 25 Aug 2009
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
Frank Bascombe, the narrator of THE LAY OF THE LAND is a successful residential real estate agent who finds the experience of selling real estate both empowering and beneficent. At the same time, Frank has a complex but not atypical personal life. He's twice married, loves his current wife, and has two children in their late twenties. His son is childish but is finding happiness in a mainstream American life. His brilliant daughter is slow getting started. Finally, Frank has prostate cancer, which he has addressed with radioactive seed implants. In TLotL, Ford explores these circumstances in Frank's life, primarily in three successive days ending on Thanksgiving 2000. The Florida recount is underway and in the background.

As the highly articulate Frank moves from appointment to appointment during these three days, he constantly discusses his philosophy for what he deems his Permanent Period in life. In this stage, a person has stopped trying "to become" and instead is content "to be." With this Buddhist-like mind set, Frank says regret and guilt fade to a dull and not-painful haze while the present offers the sustenance of predictable yet earned pleasures and rewards. This is a realistic philosophy, Frank believes, for a man of 55.

Of course, Frank's desire to live in the Permanent Period is challenged by life itself, with powerful emotions and irrevocable acts continually exploding in this narrative. There is a bombing at a hospital, a fight in a bar, and an act of vandalism, all representing assertions of anger that a benign philosophy fails to address or contain. Further, there is great cruelty inflicted on Frank, usually borne of confusion, but cruelty and, its subsequent pain, nonetheless. Even so, Frank, through most of this novel, is able to pull all events and experiences inside the big soothing tent of the Permanent Period. What the novel leads up to is a moment of truth when Frank, drinking alone in a bar, tearfully experiences the shortcomings of his philosophy. The insightful and wry Frank then resolves to move to the Next Level, where life "can't be escaped" and must be "faced entire."

In following Frank through his three-days of activities and his philosophic mulling (as well as unscheduled stops to pee), Ford shows a genius-like ability to revisit the same issues--the bittersweet experience of marriage and fatherhood, the pleasures of business interplay, the mighty power of the past, the flora and fauna of the suburbs, and the prospect of death--and keep them fresh and funny. In mocking Frank, Wade Arcenault, his octogenarian buddy, sneers: "Think, think, thinky, think." Yet this is precisely the engine--Frank's interesting mind and fascinating musings--that powers this novel's wonderful narrative. With Frank Bascombe, Ford has created a GREAT character with lots to say about ordinary life and I urge you to meet him. I only wish Frank didn't feel so guilty.

Two quick final observations: The wordplay in THE LAY OF THE LAND is sensational and sometimes hilarious. And Joyce scholars must get special pleasure from this book, since Frank Bascombe is certainly the Leopold Bloom of New Jersey's Ocean County.

Highly recommended.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An approach to the permanent period, 5 Mar 2007
By 
A Common Reader "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Hardcover)
Lay of the Land is the third novel in which Richard Ford charts the life of Frank Bascombe. Frank is now in his fifties, and is a realtor (an estate agent) on the coast of New Jersey. He is in his second marriage and in the throes of what he calls the "Permanent Period", that stage of life where most things that can go wrong have already gone wrong, and where generally speaking things don't get messed up any more - at least in the catastrophic way that earlier stages are subject too. Needless to say, the Permanent Period turns out to be no protection from family squalls and rifts, and even second marriages, seemingly so settled can go badly and unexpectedly wrong. And then there's always prostate cancer, to make sure that Frank has to make adjustments to those areas of his life so far unaffected.

The charm of this novel, like its predecessors, is that nothing much happens. Frank is allowed to tell his story in his usual meandering way. A trip into town can give rise to pages of observations and reflections, somewhat in the way of W G Sebald, or even Marcel Proust. What makes this work is that Frank has a wondrously philosophical attitude to life, not one that insulates him from problems, but one which enables him to interpret them and live through them in an almost Buddhist way, where trouble is rarely confronted full on, but rather side-stepped and averted by Frank's huge tolerance and patience. The reader finds him/herself drifting along with Frank, and can find himself saying, hey, this approach might work with me too, if only I wasn't so uptight and frantic. Richard Ford has cast Frank's real-estate assistant as a Tibetan Buddhist immigrant, called (unusually) Mike Mahoney. It is interesting to see as the book develops, that maybe Frank is the better Buddhist than this disciple of the Dalai Llama.

Frank is a completely believable character, and although the book only covers a period of a few days, it is full of incidents that show how Frank deals with his family and friends. By the end, readers will have learned a lot about what makes him tick, and maybe like me, they will think that Frank may be quite a good guy to know, and maybe they could learn something about dealing with the huge amounts of stuff that has to be dealt with in the course of a fairly routine life. Highly recommended - if you like this kind of thing, and I do.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Now I lay me down to sleep..., 16 July 2007
This review is from: The Lay of the Land (Paperback)
Richard Ford has impeccable taste in fiction, as we know from his introductions to UK editions of James Salter's Light Years and Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road. He also enjoys greatness by association with his old friends, the late Raymond Carver and the not late (except when it comes to turning out novels) Tobias Wolff. And his last collection of stories, A Multitude of Sins, was a delight. But I get the impression that what he wants to be remembered for are the Frank Bascombe novels: The Sportswriter (1984), Independence Day (1995) and now The Lay of the Land. A clue to this comes in the early pages of chapter 1, where the uncommon word angstrom appears. Of course! It's Rabbit by Richard.

And The Lay of the Land does seem more than either of the others to be Ford's attempt to square up to Updike and give the world his own Harry Angstrom. It seems less interested in doing something new (it copies the structure of Independence Day: the detailed moment-by-moment recreation of the days approaching a public holiday - this time Thanksgiving - and a dramatic event near the end), and is content to examine Bascombe's life with positively forensic attention.

This is not without event - Bascombe gets involved along the way in a bar brawl, a terrorist attack, and several switchbacks of his present and previous love lives - but there's no denying that it does get at times extremely boring. It's hard to tell whether this is deliberate - Frank after all is an estate agent and not a man given to outbursts of emotion - and at times this quality made it the ideal holiday read, as I had nothing else with me to put it down for. Ford's prose is not the match of Updike's, or Salter's for that matter, and in storytelling circles Yates leaves him standing.

Nonetheless the book was not at all a difficult or reluctant read, and there are moments of brilliant observation, such as this assessment of Bascombes' Tibetan employee, Mike Mahoney:

"In this, he's like many of our citizens, including the ones who go back to the Pilgrims: He's armed himself with just enough information, even if it's wrong, to make him believe that what he wants he deserves, that bafflement is a form of curiosity and that these two together form an inner strength that should let him pick all the low-hanging fruit."

This also plays into the Rabbitesque background to the book: the recounts and court challenges to the 2000 Bush/Gore election, which gives Ford a chance to put some choice anti-Bushisms in Bascombe's mouth.

Finally, there is the inevitable impressed satisfaction of reading any book this length, that the author should have managed to sustain the performance for so long, even if we didn't always enjoy it that much (or perhaps, as Forster once suggested, we tend to overpraise long books simply because we have got through them). Oh, and a word about that: my obsession with flagrant page-bloat has been mentioned before, but I think swelling the page count from 496 in the hardback to 726 in the paperback sets a new record. Unless of course you are even more anally retentive than I am about things like that, and know better.
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