Just a Regular Guy

In the new Bookforum, Richard Ford addresses the question of whether his three Frank Bascombe novels were intended to make their hero into an American everyman. He says he’s flattered whenever the subject comes up, but the question also seems to raise his back hairs a little—on top of seeing the idea as too simplistic, he also fears that it may put off some people thinking of reading him for the first time. He writes: “I realize I may not be telling a prospective reader exactly what she or he wants to know about these books, imagined as a ‘trilogy,’ but am only saying what’s on my mind as I’ve begun to think about them all together for the first time—and wanting to free a new reader from some binding and unlikable expectancies, while admitting him to better ones.”

As somebody who hasn’t gotten to the Bascombe novels—a sad admission given this site’s nameplate, I know—I can say that I’ve never been put off from reading the books because critics saw something emblematic in them. If anything that made them more appealing, like an opportunity to meet Rabbit Angstrom’s brighter, more thoughtful cousin. Ford makes a good point, though, that intent is everything in this case—that deliberately trying to create an everyman type (unless you’re Philip Roth) is setting yourself up for failure. The best part of the essay describes how Bascombe tried to force himself into the narrative of Independence Day, and Ford’s ultimately failed attempts to keep him from knocking down the door:

[O]ver that time I began to notice that all the father’s projected calculations about life and events seemed, in my notes, to “sound” like those of Frank Bascombe—the character who’d narrated The Sportswriter. I made dogged efforts to scuttle all thought of a “linked” book. I was fearful of helplessly writing that first novel over again; fearful of having more ambition than skill or sense; fearful of gloomy failure. And yet these fears finally succumbed to the recognition that to be given a “voice” and with it an already-plausible character who can transact the complex world in reasonably intelligent, truthful, even mirthful ways was just too much of a gift from the writing gods to decline. And so Independence Day, after some considerable prewriting adjustments to my original plan, came into existence.

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