a node at the edge  

September 22, 2002
Writing"The Sportswriter" by Richard Ford: A Review

    Though in the end, this is all I ask for: to participate briefly in the lives of others at a low level; to speak in a plain, truth-telling voice; to not take myself too seriously; and then to have done with it. Since after all, it is one thing to write sports, but another thing entirely to live a life.

No mad passion, no heights of glory, no sentiment, and no mockery -- this phrase from the book is the most fitting description of the lead character, Frank, a late 30's sportswriter recently faced with several life upheavals. And my choice of this phrase is one that I know would meet with Frank's, and the author's, approval.

The Sportwriter was not an easy read for me. For the first time in 40+ years I could actually believe that there are basic, fundamental differences between men and women that go beyond the mere physical; differences so strong as to make Frank seem alien to me. Outside of my comprehension.

When I finished the book, I didn't particularly like Frank, though I appreciated the skill and talent of Richard Ford's writing. However, during my road trip I would think about specific scenes -- Frank first provoking and then delighting in a punch to the face, the car in the basement, meetings with X -- and I found the character growing on me. If I couldn't actually understand Frank, I could acccept him. There is something about Frank's plainly honest assessment of what he is -- his disengaged interest, the reluctant self-reliance, the lack of great ambition, and most of all, his 'dreaminess' as he refers to it -- that is noble. And sad. And, ultimately, both foreign and familiar to me.

The book covers Frank's experiences over an Easter week, beginning with the anniversary of his son's death, and ending with other dramatic events. During this week, Richard Ford draws Frank into a series of meetings with people who are most likely quite ordinary, but with Ford's skill, become transformed into something extraordinary. Every chance occurrence is an event, including Frank's brief encounter and conversation with a store attendent who gives him float to help the pain of a bruised jaw and bloody knee:

    "Did you ever like write about skiing?" she says, and shakes her head at me as if she knows my answer before I say it. The breeze blows up dust and sprinkles our faces with it.
    "No. I don't even know how to ski."
    "Me neither," she says and smiles again, then sighs. "So. Okay. Have a nice day. What's your name, what'd you say it was?" She is already leaving.
    "Frank." For some reason, I do not say my last name.
    "Frank," she says.
    As I watch her walk out into the lot toward the Ground Zero, her hands fishing in her pocket for a new cigarette, shoulders hunched against a cold breeze that isn't blowing, her hopes for a nice day, I could guess, are as good as mine, both of out in the wind, expectant, available for an improvement. And my hopes are that a little luck will come both our ways. Life is not always ascendent.

It was Ford's ability to make even the most plain and everyday event into something interesting (not necessarily exciting, spectacular, life changing, or passionate) that make this book into an exceptional reading experience. Each person who reads this book will read something different in the actions and the thoughts and the characters, and the discussions resulting from these differences can be illuminating in their own right.

Though The Sportswriter is written from a distinctly masculine perspective, I would strongly recommend this book to all women over 40. No, better make that 35. It helps to know more about the aliens that walk among us.

Book: The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford. Published in 1986. Recommended by Jonathon Delacour.

Posted by Bb at September 22, 2002 08:41 PM

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I read the Sportswriter about a decade ago but the Frank character seemed cold and alien to me at the time and now most of what I retain is the mood of the novel, a scene in a phone booth, and my friend S telling me at the time about the Easter motif which had entirely eluded me. Did come away thinking Ford was a good writer. If masculine then in some hickory smoked way I've never understood, city-bred as I am.

Posted by: xian on September 23, 2002 04:22 PM

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