John Irving published A Widow for One Year in 1998 [Random House] so my apologies for not getting round to it sooner. It was certainly worth the wait. The novel is about sex, love and writers but not necessarily in that order. There is a fairly steady flow of sex; some undying and even some eventually requited love; and almost everyone is either a book writer or a book editor and; we must never forget them; an avid book reader. The story spans a period of nearly forty years so there is plenty time for quite a variety of different approaches to sex; sufficient time for characters to fall in love more than once or, in one case, remain in love from start to finish; and ample time for even the slowest writers to turn out several books.
After making Richard Ford’s acquaintance over the past couple of years through his Frank Bascombe trilogy, which he then made a tetralogy, I have turned back to the short story collection he published in 1987. Rock Springs (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987) is set largely in the mid-western wheat growing state of Montana. Ford knows the country and his territory well. Until one reaches the Rockies in the west of Montana there is almost no geographical feature of note apart from the Missouri. The roads and the rail tracks are all but straight, especially the road north from Havre all the way to Canada.
Donna Tartt is one of these fascinating (and very fortunate) authors who can write a debut-novel bestseller then keep her readers waiting around ten years for the second and a further eleven for the third, this fascinating novel The Goldfinch. However, her talents were spotted early and her writing was encouraged. Her earlier novels and short stories have won her prizes and literary acclaim. This one is a long book and although I found her detailed, minute-by-minute, day-by-day narration of the central character, Theo Decker’s thoughts and feelings in dramatic and testing circumstances beautifully written and fascinating to read, I will admit to giving a silent cheer when Chapter 9 on page 443 began, “One afternoon eight years later …”
An unexpected pleasure this year was the news that Richard Ford has written a fourth “Frank Bascombe” novel. It was after meeting Ford last year at the Royal Society of Literature at a launch of his novel Canada that I learned about his earlier trio of novels in which his narrator, Frank Bascombe, recounts the events of very short periods of time, like the days leading up to the Fourth of July. However, his discursive, mildly self-critical, but appropriately frank, narrative voice allows the account of one weekend to occupy the whole novel. They also allow the reader to meet up with Frank at different stages of his life. The three earlier books are The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995), and The Lay of the Land (2006). The passage of real time between each publication suggests that Ford, whose personality, prejudices and politics might possibly colour the narration, has used Bascombe as some sort of doppelganger. Now, another eight years have elapsed and we re-encounter Frank, now 68 and living in retirement in fictional Haddam, New Jersey in December 2012. In the previous novel, he had sold his house on the Jersey Shore and moved back there; a fortunate move since, early on October 29, Hurricane Sandy curved north-northwest and then moved ashore near Brigantine, New Jersey, just to the northeast of Atlantic City, as a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds. His former home in Sea-Clift is destroyed.