An acquired taste

Richard Ford’s prose is more Dickensian than any other contemporary writer I know. The impact of his prose is initially like eating a too-rich meal – perhaps the Thanksgiving feast that The Lay of the Land moves toward for most of its 485 pages.

There is a feeling of surfeit amounting to indigestion – but also a sensory satisfaction that makes us wonder at our enjoying this level of pleasure only once a year.

I haven’t yet read the previous two Frank Bascombe novels – The Sportswriter and Independence Day – but I probably know Frank as well as I know any of my friends. He is singularly likeable and well intentioned – even as he stumbles through seven days of physical and emotional chaos, leading up to a climactic Thanksgiving Day.

I don’t jump-skip or speed read. I read every word on a page, so I picked up this book and put it down a number of times, over a period of months, thinking, “Too dense. I’m not in the mood for 200,000 words.” Until one night, with few options readily available, I launched myself onto its pages.

It took a while but eventually I was drawn into the thicket that is Ford’s prose – fascinated and appalled by the detail; sucked into the mind of Frank Bascombe. It is November 2000. The world as we knew it had not yet shape-shifted forever. And Frank Bascombe rides astride his world like Don Quixote, his Tibetan Buddhist sidekick (Mike Mahoney) a Sancho Panza with a rather malleable conscience.

With an unstable first wife, a missing second wife, a bisexual daughter and a repulsive son – not to mention the ongoing saga of Frank Bascombe, Realtor Extraordinaire – he moves non-stop through his days and nights, both encountering and inciting crises.

By the end of the novel I was invigorated and exhausted. I liked Frank well enough to want to look into his previous two incarnations – only not just yet.

As a friend of mine recently remarked: “Richard Ford is an acquired taste.”

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