5:21:15 Let Me Be Frank With You, a book review

Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford represents a capstone and the sum of wisdom learned, past and present, by the author's engaging and loquacious character, Frank Bascombe, whom we know from an earlier trilogy of novels that began with the bestseller The Sportswriter in 1986.

At age sixty-eight--prostate cancer survived--Frank lives on the familiar Jersey shore, where for decades he sold real estate before retiring out. But familiar or no, the landscape where he lives with his second wife, Sally, did not escape the angry chaos of Hurricane Sandy, even if their house stayed upright. The comfortable community of Haddam, NJ, is busy adjusting to, as Frank puts it, "the new normal."

[book cover]

So while Sally is off-stage, grief-counselling Sandy's victims, Frank walks us through encounters--in these four inter-linked stories---with people he now knows. It must be said from the outset, one doesn't read Richard Ford for page-turning, plotted "action."

No, it's a newsy stroll with an old friend, this Frank, who encounters a woman who once lived in his house, who wants to look inside, and who shares a dark story of what happened in the basement; or in an ongoing re-encounter, a monthly visit to his ex-wife Ann, who suffers from Parkinson's and lives in a spendy, staged-care facility. Ford, the master stylist, offers up Frank's encounters with sparkling dialogue, a signature photo-realistic eye for detail, and a playful gift for language (What is a "wittering urgency"?).

The 500-pound gorilla in the room of Let Me Be Frank With You is, of course, mortality and nothing is vague about its approach. As Frank puts it, at his age, "not much is happening except on the medical front." Acknowledging the inevitable, he's paring down. Starting with "stripping the words we use to express our increasingly rare, increasingly vagrant thoughts." Frank applies the same logic to friendship. He grants the unexpected 60% of his time. The other 40% is left over friends, which he's limited to five--why drag a flock into your eventual demise? he seems to ask. The five designated friends include wife Sally, ex-wife Ann, his two children: He has only one available slot open.

Such a clear-eyed understanding of life's closer will resolve Let Me Be Frank With You. But as Frank also says, "I bought the The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying as a present to myself but haven't made much progress there--though I need to." The reader suspects and hopes we haven't heard the last of Frank Bascombe.

Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford, ecco/HarperCollins, New York, 2014. 240 pp. ISBN: 978-0-06-169206-2.

Image credit: google images: npr.org


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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.



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