Title: The Sportswriter
Rating: 4 Stars
Many years ago, I read Independence Day, which is the sequel to this book. I read the sequel first because I was in the mode of reading Pulitzer prize winners.
It follows Frank Bascombe, an unmotivated, probably not all that talented writer who landed into the job as sportswriter and became successful at it.
At the point that the novel picks up, his youngest child has been dead for about 2 years and he is now divorced. Since these two events, he’s been wandering around in a dream like state.
The story covers one long Easter weekend.
First of all, the book is kind of hilariously dated. Detroit is held up as a romantic getaway and all that’s great about America. The book was written in 1986, so it probably wasn’t true even then, but still this was somewhat jarring to read about.
Secondly, the romantic escapades just seem unlikely. In the span of a long weekend, he goes away to Detroit with a girlfriend that he thinks that he wants to marry, she breaks up with him at an Easter dinner because of some opinions that he expresses, he meets up with his ex-wife and they almost end up together, and finally when he ends up back in his New York office, an intern half his age basically throws herself at him. I’ve seen more realistic sex scenarios in 70’s era porn movies.
He does make sports writing seem like light duty that apparently pays very well. Although this was supposed to be a work weekend (ie the trip to Detroit to interview a now paralyzed former athlete), the work that he does consist of one very short interview and a couple of jotted down sentences. Later we find out that he takes a multi-month leave to Florida to continue to deal with his grief. Apparently, I’m in the wrong business since I could never do that. This sounds like literary license of a writer who has not spent a great deal of time in ‘real’ jobs.
With Frank, there are interesting scenes that describe what it is like to be a ‘typical’ man. The loneliness, the phoniness, and neediness that I think men feel on a regular basis come into play as the story unfolds. There were several moments that ended up leaving me looking uncomfortably at myself.
There are obvious parallels between the Bascombe series of books and Updike’s Rabbit series. In fact, I found Updike and Ford to be similar in themes, if not styles. Ultimately, they’re both writing about middleclass to upper-middleclass white males struggling to live their prosaic lives. Considering the current state of our culture, such navel-gazing by members of the white patriarchy will probably, if not already, seem anachronistic.