Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’
‘Let Me Be Frank With You’
240 pages, $27.99 (signed first editions also available at Explore Booksellers)
Nearly 30 years ago, Richard Ford wrote, “New Jersey’s is the purest loneliness of all” in “The Sportswriter,” the novel that introduced readers to Frank Bascombe and began Ford’s series following the real estate agent and writer.
The observation has never been truer than in the new, fourth Bascombe book, “Let Me Be Frank With You.” In the new book’s linked stories, Bascombe is (as always) emotionally adrift and now 68 years old, retired from real estate. It finds him in New Jersey at its loneliest, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in late 2012.
Though it is filled with the vivid, pitch-perfect descriptions readers have come to expect from Ford, the book is less about Sandy than it is about getting old and contemplating death. Watching nature take its course and level the homes along the Jersey shoreline serves as an occasion for Bascombe, pushing 70, to detail the ways age is slowly, similarly, diminishing him as “a matter of gradual subtraction.” The detatched Bascombe refers to his twilight as his “Default Period.”
Yet it’s not a grim book, and it reads freer and funnier than the previous Bascombe entry, “The Lay of the Land.” Ford sets the tone by opening the book with Bascombe riffing about words and phrases that should be banished from language – “F-bomb,” for instance, and “no problem” when it means “thank you.”
“I’m Here” finds Bascombe on the shore with a bitter former client, visiting the house that Frank sold to him, now storm-ravaged. In “Everything Could Be Worse,” he arrives at his home in Haddam — unscathed by the storm — and gets a visit from an African-American woman who used to live in the house, and has a disturbing story to tell about it. “The New Normal” follows Bascombe on a visit to his ex-wife, Ann, who is now in a retirement home and suffering from Parkinson’s disease, to bring her an orthopedic pillow. In the closing story, “Deaths of Others,” an old acquaintance asks Frank to see him on his deathbed to hear a confession.
Each story in this short, but not slight, book calls on Bascombe to help someone else. He obliges, but in each he is unwilling — or maybe, at this point, unable – to get closer than arm’s length.