Raymond A. SchrothFebruary 19, 2007 - 5:20pm0 comments
The Lay of the Land
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95, 496 pp.
I first met Frank Bascombe about twenty years ago when I read The Sportswriter, a novel I was introduced to by the manager of the Loyola University bookstore in New Orleans, who later introduced me to Bascombe’s creator, Richard Ford.
I’ve kept in touch with Frank over the years. We have a few things in common: both have taught college and like to write; both lived for years in the Trenton-Princeton, New Jersey, area (Frank read the Trenton Times, for which my father wrote editorials); and both have homes on the Jersey shore-mine an eleven-room place at Sea Bright, which I share with several hundred Jesuits, and Frank’s at Sea-Clift, just a few miles south along the beach.
The Lay of the Land is the third, and perhaps final, volume-after The Sportswriter (1986) and Independence Day (1995)-chronicling the moment-by-moment adventures of an extraordinarily perceptive but limited man making his best attempt to be good. It’s hard not to like Frank Bascombe. Even when his life-or, in particular, one of his marriages (he has had two)-is falling apart, he struggles to be a good father, to keep his integrity. Laced with wry observations, his conversation holds you-as when, in the days before Thanksgiving 2000, with the presidential election being stolen, he watches George W. Bush on the screen of a barroom TV and muses on “Bush’s grinning, smirking, depthless face...talking soundlessly, arms held away from his...