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.
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.
My next blog will be on the newly published Let me be Frank with you which is a welcome addition to Richard Ford’s three Frank Bascombe novels about which you can read in earlier blogs (click on the Richard Ford link in the Tagged list below). It promises to be every bit as good, maybe, as he matures, even better, than the first three. Put it on your Christmas list for yourself and even give copies to others! My review in about a week.
Oklahoma is one of the almost mythical Mid-Western states of the Union, running down through the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas above, and only Texas below. The very word ‘OOOOklahoma’ starts music ringing in your ears; but Tulsa? Hands up anyone who’s been there! But reading Benjamin Lytal’s debut novel, A Map of Tulsa, [London: And Other Stories, 2014] you could begin to feel it might be worth the detour.
Just to show how efficient I can be when I want to, here is a table of the baker’s dozen best reads of 2013 with links through to the reviews. I have taken time to marginally adjust the scores out of 100. I see that one publisher, Sandstone Press up in the north of Scotland, has two runners. Well done Bob! My top three, and six out of thirteen are American writers. Let’s see how my massive reading programme for 2014 works out.