on 7 August 2007
There's little about sport or the craft of the sportswriter in this book and my biggest challenge has been to convince women that they should read it. But if you are female, I recommend this book particularly, as I thought it a rare and revealing journey through a man's confusion about the loss of love and relationship.
The first time I read this book, I enjoyed it. I had just divorced and the main character's (Frank Bascombe) struggle to reconcile himself to his new state resonated for me.
Years later, in the throes of a happy and fulfilling relationship, I re-read `The Sportswriter' and found new pleasure in it. I think that Ford creates an uncomfortable character, infuriatingly self-reflective and inert at times. In this sense, Bascombe becomes an anti-hero, challenging the reader to examine his or her own condition.
on 15 June 2010
Don't be put off by the title: this isn't really a book about sport or sportswriting. It's one of the greatest first-person-narrator novels of all time. The first of Richard Ford's astonishing Frank Bascombe books, this is perhaps a slightly more conventional novel than its successors, Independence Day,The Lay Of The Land and Let Me Be Frank with You, but it's no less powerful. If you are a sensitive human being you will be able to read this and see the world through Frank's weary, downtrodden but somehow optimisic eyes. You will also feel you are less alone on the planet. It's funny, sad, poignant and uplifting stuff.
on 1 June 2000
Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter for a national magazine, is struggling to come to terms with the death of his youngest son as well as a recent divorce.
Richard Ford's book is memorable for many reasons: it paints an entirely honest picture of grieving; it is written in sparse, vivid prose; it gets inside the head of Bascombe so well you feel you've know him all your life; and it is filled with anecdotes and stories that are believable, truthful and free from sentiment.
It is a somewhat depressing read, maybe, but Ford often finds humour in the most unlikely places, and the novel is rarely dull. The gentle, meandering storyline is filled out with scenes from Bascombe's life and the characters he meets along the way. Indeed, part of the magic of the novel is in watching his analytical mind try and get a grip on the absurdities and quirks that he encounters in people and situations. The driving force of the book concerns his seemingly aimless search for a 'place' in life and this is credibly and sympathetically portrayed.
"The Sportswriter" is a major, if downbeat, achievement.
on 7 September 2013
'If you could meet a fictional character, who would it be? Stephen Dedalus, Emma Bovary, Nick Adams?'
My answer is always the same: Frank Bascombe. He is the narrator of this novel, and appears in two further instalments, the second of which, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer Prize.
Of these, this one is my enduring favourite. Tautly expressed and realistic, it also glows with that rare thing: genuine, unforced optimism.
It came at a markedly bleak time for Ford. He had given up fiction after poor sales for his first two books, and gone to work covering sports. The magazine folded: its successor failed to hire him. An infamous editor, much esteemed at the time, urged Ford 'to stick to writing about Montana'.
Fortunately, he overcame all these obstacles, and made his first big splash with the result. Not to be missed.
on 12 May 2013
It seemed somehow apt that I found my copy of THE SPORTSWRITER in a charity shop - the 1996 Harvill Panther edition with the monochrome cover and the stark typeface. Indeed, it was the cover that grabbed me - I had never heard of Richard Ford or Frank Bascombe; the second of whose adventures, INDEPENDENCE DAY, won the 1996 Pulitzer.
Narrative-wise, the premise is simple - Frank is a thirty-eight year-old man (the titular sportswriter) trying to make his way in the world in the wake of bereavement and, latterly, divorce. The book is essentially a first-person monologue - great chunks of which are internal ruminations and observations - framed by 'normal' events: a trip to Detroit with his new girlfriend, Easter Sunday lunch with her family, numb conversations with his ex-wife and maritime sojourns with the Divorced Men's Club. Frank struggles to find meaning in everyday mundanity, and soldiers on; trying to be positive and find reasons to go on.
That said, Frank is not given to melodrama - themes of death, aging, identity, success and failure are handled delicately, and his own failures (his marriage, his novel, the loss of his son) are dealt with internally and almost matter-of-factly. He craves neither attention nor sympathy, and the undercurrents of despair and melancholy that lace his words remain exactly that - perhaps partly because throughout the course of the book we seem to meet people who are worse off than he is.
Aside from interviewing a disabled former pro-ball star, Frank seems to perform precious little in the way of sportswriting, but that is the point. Sportswriting is a vocation in name only; rather, it is his lifeline to the real world, his mask, his common ground for interacting with his ordinary fellow man (whom he seems to neither understand nor trust). It is also his consolation prize for giving up on his novel, the implicit suggestion being that, like relationships, writing is only a profession that earns respect if you are a success.
This disregard for his own career stops just short of self-loathing (and just as well, probably), but Frank's self-awareness leads him to analyse every single trifling exchange with other people, regardless of their significance in his life, loading each nuance and unspoken word with meaning. He is trapped inside his own brain and memories, cruising through the alien suburbs of the American Midwest as if on the other side of a window, craving a simple life of paid-off bungalows, innocuous leisure and retirement utopia. This `dreaminess' - the retreat into himself following the loss of his son - leads him to cling to the past, reverting to adolescent sexism and calling up old girlfriends out of the blue in acts of toe-curling spontaneity.
Much is made of the `dreaminess,' and I almost feel it is a state you have to achieve yourself in order to properly enjoy this book. I read it early in the morning and late at night, undisturbed and in a kind of meditative state. It is a book that speaks to your own vulnerability, and if you find it boring the first time around, switch everything off and try again.
on 28 September 1999
This book is not one for the faint hearted at all, telling the story of a man who seems intent on creating the most hopeless life possible for himself whilst at the same time retaining a layer of optimism that's almost absurd in it's honesty. Maybe it's because of the calm rational inner monologue in which the book is mostly written that made the main character seem so plausible to me but reading it, and agreeing with it, brought it home that I might end up like Frank. A scary, pivotal moment that made me try to do things differently in my life from that point in time onwards. This book is a brilliant read and in my opinion is streets ahead of it's sequel, the Pulitzer prize winning Independence Day.
on 16 April 2007
Woven into events in the life of Frank Bascombe - the said sportswriter - over one Easter weekend, we have a tale of losing and then finding yourself as a nearing-middle-aged male. The language used has been carefully, even beautifully, chosen in places but clever craftsmanship is not enough.
Critics have found Ford's writing "elegaic" - but that can translate as "ponderous" at times, with interminable introspections leaving this reader desperate for some forward motion in the plot; soldiering on only with gritted teeth.
Quite likely the book - as a celebration of the life of an "ordinary Joe" - works better for a US than a European audience. Many of the cultural and geographic references were lost on me. The claim that Ford "finds the transcendent in the mundane" didn't hold water - all he seemed to manage to find was the mundane.
In a book that tries ultimately to be about hope, the tone for the bulk of the story seemed misanthropic. We are richly, if indigestibly, drawn into seeing the world through Frank's eyes but this lacks the warmth to really make a connection.
on 12 December 2015
A depressing but enlightening read. Ford is a tough novelist. You really have to persevere and in doing so you end up with a satisfying read. I found his novel, Canada, hard to read as I did this book. I'd been waiting fir some time to read The Sportswriter and I'm glad I got round to reading it. But for me Ford does not deliver as Updike dies with the Rabbit novels or Anne Tyler with her marvellous Baltimore books.
on 21 January 2008
After reading Richard Yates's "Revolutionary Road" a couple of years ago I went on to purchase the rest of his novels, all of which were as concise and bleak as his debut.
Richard Ford wrote the introduction to the recent Methuen edition of this book and so when Amazon posted a recommendation for "The Sportswriter" (the tale of a middle-aged, middle-class divorcee who has an affair with a younger woman) I presumed that it would be an equally impressive read. I was wrong. The two writers do not compare.
Where Yates was a master of pessimism by virtue of the fact that he had absolutely no empathy for his characters (usually in order to progress his narrative), Ford labours over his protagonist, Frank Bascombe's most trivial concerns in tedious and over-descriptive prose.
The events in "The Sportswriter" only take place over three or four days yet it takes Ford almost four hundred pages to reach his eventual conclusion.
Despite this overly verbose approach, Ford's writing contains many well-observed insights and musings. Perhaps with the collaboration of a ruthless editor, willing to chop away two-hundred pages of extraneous drivel (in the same way "American Psycho" could've) "The Sportswriter" may have gained the necessary charm to keep the reader engaged.
Male existentialist characterisation and its inherent angst have been examined many times before, by far better and more focused writers than Ford (Bernard Malamud's "Dubin's Lives" for example) and this book really doesn't offer anything distinctive or new with which to commend it.
Richard Ford's 1986 novel The Sportswriter is a small-scale, philosophical tale of (largely, self-) refection as told by its narrator, failed novelist, and now sportswriter, Frank Bascombe (a career path which Ford himself followed). I have just re-read the book, 15 years after my first pass, and my view now is that Ford has written a brilliantly accurate and insightful account of the modern human condition, full of confused ambition, fragile relationships and unrequited love. My only real reservation with the book is that it is full of (in the main, essentially) unsympathetic characters (Bascombe included) and, whilst this may well add to the sense of realism portrayed, at the end of the novel I was left somewhat unmoved (or certainly not as drawn into Ford's world as I would have wished). The other thing to note for would-be readers is that the book is slow-paced and, with one notable exception, is almost devoid of major incident (for me, not a problem per se) and that, whilst the principal character is indeed a sports journalist, this subject matter occupies (I would say) less than 10% of the narrative.
Ford's Frank Bascombe is a thirty-something divorcee, father of three (one, Ralph, now deceased), and living in the small-town of Haddam, New Jersey. Frank's view of his ex-wife (and women more generally?) is neatly summed up by his simply referring to her throughout the novel as 'X', although, despite this, he clearly still feels the remnants of his past affection for her (and for his son and daughter who live with X). Ford's writing as Bascombe is throughout never less than interesting and frequently full of superb character descriptions and black humour, such as when Frank visits a crippled ex-footballer in order to interview him and when Frank experiences the 'visit from hell' as he travels with girlfriend and nurse Vicki to visit her family. But the most compelling narrative thread in the book is that covering Frank's encounters with Divorced Men's Club acquaintance, Walter Luckett - this sub-story is brilliantly written and a devastating comment on the isolating effects of modern society.
For me, therefore, by no means an unqualified success, but certainly a novel well worth reading and one whose impact (I have found) increases with subsequent readings.