Book 73: The Sportswriter
I’ve been looking forward to reading The Sportswriter since the first time I saw its inclusion on the Time list.
At one point in my life, I thought I might want to be a sportswriter some day, until I realized I’d probably be writing about high school lacrosse and women’s softball the first few years of my career, so I decided against it.
But I do read a lot of sports writing. With newspapers, and even magazines to some degree, dying off, I spend a lot of time reading online blogs and sites like Deadspin, SB Nation, and Outkick the Coverage.
But The Sportswriter is set in the 1980s, during a time when newspapers were the predominant way most of us received our information. The story features Frank Bascombe, a failed-novelist-turned-sportswriter in his late 30s—coming off a recent divorce and still dealing with the death of his son.
If you thought Richard Ford simply wrote a novel about sports, you’re dead wrong.
Bascombe is a likeable, brutally honest guy, and he’s one of the most philosophical, introspective narrators I’ve read in a long time, like this passage in which he’s trying to figure out women.
“Then, what’s the matter?’ I wonder, in fact, how many times I have said that or something equal to it to a woman passing palely through my life. What’re you thinking? What’s made you so quiet? You seem suddenly different. What’s the matter? Love me is what this means, of course. Or at least, second best: surrender. Or at the very least, take some time regaling me with why you won’t, and maybe by the end you will.”
Frank’s relationships are a mess. He’s still in love with his ex-wife, whom he simply refers to as “X” in the novel. And over the course of the 350 pages, he has several flings with other women of various ages.
Interestingly, Bascombe is 38 years old—my current age. So, even though our life circumstances have been totally different, he was instantly relatable, which made him an easy protagonist to get behind and cheer for.
But with The Sportswriter being the first in “The Bascombe Trilogy,” you shouldn’t expect the plot to get wrapped up in a nice, tight little bow. I’m more tempted than ever to read the sequel, Independence Day—a novel Richard Ford won the Pulitzer for—but onward I go with the list.
Speaking of Richard Ford, his writing is immediately likeable. He’s just a pleasure to read. He might be a less vulgar version of John Updike.
I love passages like the following, when Bascombe is reminiscing about the effect their divorce had on the kids.
“They may already know too much about their mother and father–nothing being more factual than divorce, where so much has to be explained and worked through intelligently (though they have tried to stay equable). I’ve noticed this is often the time when children begin calling their parents by their first names, becoming little ironists after their parents’ faults. What could be lonelier for a parent than to be criticized by his child on a first-name basis?”
That’s the kind of honest introspection you can expect from The Sportswriter.
In sum, the novel’s about one man’s ongoing struggle in dealing with his past failures.
The Opening: “My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.”
The Meaning: You’re in your late 30s, recently divorced to a woman you still love, still reeling from the loss of your son years ago, and going through a stage of “dreaminess” you can’t seem to get out of. How would you respond?
Highlights: Richard Ford is a fantastic writer. He genuinely makes you feel sorry for Bascombe even though the guy can be a dirtbag sometimes. He’s still likeable.
Lowlights: The seemed too long to me. I think Ford could have took out 50 pages, and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Memorable Line: “Maturity, as I conceived it, was recognizing what was bad or peculiar in life, admitting it has to stay that way, and going ahead with the best of things. ”
Final Thoughts: This is a good novel. It’s unlikely to be one of the best novels you’ve ever read, but you also won’t regret reading it. And if you haven’t ever read anything from Richard Ford, I would suggest checking out The Sportswriter.