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Independence Day: Bascombe Trilogy (2)
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76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the reviewer (...) who raved about Richard Poe's brilliant reading of an unabridged, audio version of this book. Having read many of the divergent opinions listed here by Amazon readers, and remembering some of my own struggles to read authors like Tim Parks (whose narrators internalize much of the story and who digress often), it occurs to me that perhaps this story is better enjoyed on tape. I couldn't wait to get in my car every day and listen to Poe's witty, heart-felt rendition of Ford's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Independence Day is essentially an internal monologue, set on the long July 4th weekend of 1988. It is a sequel to Ford's earlier novel The Sportswriter, which I have yet to read, but I never got the impression I was missing anything due to lack of familiarity with the earlier novel. The protagonist is Frank Bascombe, a divorced, well-educated former sportswriter who now makes his living selling real estate in the affluent New Jersey town of Haddam, while supplementing his earnings with a couple of rental properties he owns in the town's African American neighborhood.
Bascombe is at something of a mid-life crisis. We learn that he has lost a son, and while he has been divorced from his wife for years, he still has feelings for her and secretly hopes for a reconciliation. At the same time, he is seen carrying on a half-hearted affair with a presumed widow whose husband left years earlier and never came back. Bascombe has planned to spend the long weekend with his troubled teenage son Paul, who is apparently battling some sort of mental illness or depression; for some unknown reason Bascombe decides to pick up his son in Connecticut, and drive to the basketball and baseball halls of fame in Springfield, Mass. and Cooperstown, N.Y.
Although quite a bit happens over the course of the three days, the novel is not necessarily plot-driven, and after you finish reading it (or better yet listening) you don't remember what happened nearly as much as you remember the characters themselves. In that respect it reminded me a little of a book like Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool, which I loved, although I now remember few details of the story. Frank's uneasy alliance with Paul, his guilt over taking him and not his sister away for the weekend, and his struggles to maintain his sanity over a long, stressful weekend were classic and very richly drawn by Ford. We learn Frank's thoughts at every turn, whenever he confronts another character, and at times the thoughts are brilliant, sad, funny or all of the above. For example, while trying to give his disinterested son a civics lesson on the meaning of Independence Day, Paul feigns confusion and asks a question or two, which the narrator Frank knows were really meant to mock him. Paul delights at ridiculing the hall of fame during the trip, while narrator Frank tries to keep up appearances and generate enthusiasm for displays like "Bob Lanier's shoes" while leafing through the color brochures.
There is an undercurrent of sadness and tragedy in the book, including Frank's own lost child and divorce, the earlier murder of another realtor at Bascombe's office, and even the death years earlier of a family pet in an accident, which still troubles Paul. However the novel has an upbeat tone about it, as if Frank has benefitted from therapy and is destined to look on the bright side even as other characters accuse him of being hard and uncaring. There is also plenty of humor in the book, made all the funnier by narrator Poe's excellent renditions of the character voices. Frank tries desperately to sell a house to a picky Vermont couple, and his partner in a strange "birch beer" and hot dog stand remains vigilant with his shotgun, ready to blast some suspicious Mexicans who he believes want to rob him.
All in all, the book has a voice which I found refreshing and amazingly true-to-life, with observations and asides that often had me laughing out loud or shaking my head at their poignant truth. I don't know from experience what thoughts abound in the head of a middle aged, divorced father who is estranged from his kids and who desperately wants to connect with them before it is too late, but I suspect Ford, in writing this book, got them exactly right. I recommend it highly, especially the audio version narrated by Richard Poe.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 1996
Format: Hardcover
In Independence Day, Richard Ford chronicles with consummate
skill a few days in the life of a New Jersey sportswriter
turned real estate agent, Frank Bascombe.

With keen observations, outstanding descriptive
power and dialogue more real than "The Real World," Ford
pulls the strings of this great book masterfully.

Frank is in the midst of what he calls "The Existence
Period," a time when he has come to terms with his life
to date and moved on to the more uncharted waters of vaguely
contented middle-agedom. He has arrived at a crossroads
where he has plenty of past but still a lot of future left
ahead.

The novel's narrative flows like life itself - forward,
back, sideways - in a way that is so natural and consuming
that you would swear the character is you and his thoughts
are yours.

There is not a book that I have read that does better
justice to the realities of being human and adult in
today's world.

At its heart, Independence Day is the recording of two
worlds- the one we sense through our bodies and the one
that exists in our heads - and how these two interact in
a way that is sometimes painful, sometimes beautiful, and
most times just O.K.

To read it is to see yourself, and in many ways, all of us.

A must.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I suppose I will never belong to the self-proclaimed literati, because while I can appreciate the fact that this book is very well written, still I believe that that is not enough in itself to make it a great book - certainly not a Putlizer-Prize winner. Having never read the prequel to this book, it's possible I've missed something crucial that could have contributed to my enjoyment of Independence Day. But as it was, I found it to be tedious, often boring, and almost transparently "deep" - as if Ford was more concerned with waxing philosophical than with telling a compelling story. There are so many authors out there who can both write well and tell a compelling story, that Ford is hardly the first author I would turn to.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2006
Format: Paperback
From the remarks at this site, people either love this novel or hate it. I hated it. I hated it for the reason that it represents all that is bad about MFA program writing in the last 30 years. The emphasis is entirely on STYLE. Forget story. Forget that your reader needs some reason to be reading the narrative. Just throw out and string together wonderful language and the reader will follow you anywhere. Some of this thinking goes back to Henry James, some of it goes back to Virginia Woolf who was so terrified of books with plots or dominating conceits (like H.G. Wells' THE TIME MACHINE). The first 100 pages of this novel are about a real estate deal and the people to whom Frank Bascombe is trying to sell a property. It's brilliantly written. In fact, it's so brilliantly written that I had a lot of problems seeing a former sportswriter being so introspective and articulate about his life, his loves, and the region of the country he inhabits. This book has no driving plot. In fact, it's an arbitrarily chosen conceit: what happens on July 4th in the life of one guy. It's not James Joyce's ULYSSES nor is it trying to be, but EVERY thought this man has is in this book. And none of it is related to a plot or story or any reason whatever why a person--any person--should pick up the book.

Indeed, that seems to be the crux. I read this book because it was by Richard Ford, a man whom all of my colleagues in the mainstream fiction world revere. You must read this book, they said. So I did. And I consider it an extraordinary waste of my time. To be sure, this is a judgment call, but I'm allowed to make it. EVERY reader is allowed to make that call. But I know I'm in the minority in this. This book is supposed to be one of the greatest American novels of the last 25 years. But will it be so in another 25 years? Are novels now only to be interior monologues (which Virginia Woolf preferred and said so in her essay "Modern Fiction")?

Perhaps our values are changing. Perhaps the MFA programs in this country are correct in only cultivating style rather than story. But what it eventually evolves into is a form of narcissism, wherein the author writes at length, putting on the page all of his or her thoughts about whatever and we're supposed to . . . what? Applaud it?

I believe that the authors we'll remember will be the natural storytellers. I don't think Richard Ford is one of them. But, man, he sure can write.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
In some respects, "Independence Day" is the best book I've ever read. Richard Ford is simply brilliant at capturing the uncapturable.
He is definitely the most skilled writer I've ever read when it comes to translating onto the page just what goes on in the human mind and heart as they struggle to cope with pain, loss, disappointment, and ultimately regeneration.
"Independence Day" is an interior monologue chronicling three days in the life of Frank Bascombe, former sportswriter turned realty agent, who is attempting to make some sort of real connection with his estranged teenage son. At the same time, Frank is struggling to be reborn from a self-imposed but seemingly inevitable cocoon of mid-life, post-divorce complacency, which he has termed "the existence period".
Ford's perception and empathy are his greatest tools as a writer. There are brilliantly beautiful moments of emotional honesty in this book that resonate like the searing afterimage of sunlight glimpsed on a stretch of side-of-the-road evening rail.
I cannot say enough good things about Richard Ford. I am in awe of him and would like to thank him for his wonderful contributions to my reading life. I highly recommend him to anyone who cares deeply about character and getting at what it means to be human. Ford once wrote, "If loneliness is the disease, the story is the cure." Nothing could be more true of this wonderful book.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2009
Format: Paperback
I knew going in that reading a Pulitzer Prize winning novel was like playing Russian roulette with five cylinders loaded. There have been some great ones like Empire Falls, A Confederacy of Dunces, Shipping News, and A Thousand Acres, but the list has also become over populated with some stinkers, like Independence Day. The endless contemplation of nothing takes a toll and I felt like my life force was ebbing down with each page. Then I fell into depression by page 200. When did good story telling go out the window? Who lost the plot, or even something as simple as a purpose for the story? When did endless droning about nothing become publishable? I'm all for free-form writing, but, come on, have you ever seen so many run-on sentences that say absolutely nothing? Enough of the rant. This was a bad read for me. For those who loved it, I'm happy for you. For me and the many others who loathed it, I'm sorry I wasted my time, too.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a book that is fit to win the Nobel as well as the Pulitzer. I read it and heard it on tape and was mesmerized (Recorded Books, Inc. has it and the reader, Richard Poe, is brilliant). It made me feel wonderful - peaceful - that a great book could be written about a good, good man. It's funny, sweet, sad - Richard Ford has given me a gift and I thank him. I love that a lot of his "good intentions" go to hell, but that doesn't change his sense of humor or his basic love of life. His characters are priceless: the pathetic couple excited to buy a home in New Jersey only to find that they can't really afford it; Frank's hinky son; his kooky (and ungrateful) tenants. I love Frank Bascombe - hope there's going to be more about him - long may he wave.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
I like reading. I am a literature snob. I put down poorly written novels (even though I can't write well myself!). But, I think I've met my match in this novel. I recognize the style is something unique, but I just couldn't grasp the rhythm. I'm afraid I'm going to have to side with those who gave this book thumbs down. I really want to be in the group that appreciates this Plitzer Prize novel, but I don't make the cut.

HOwever, I'd love to read more from reviewers on what they saw in this book because I just couldn't find much other than the rambling thoughts of a very whiny and boring 40-something man whom I would't enjoy spending a 3-day-weekend with at all.

I've persistantly struggled through 180 pages, but now will surrender!
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31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
Richard Ford has created in Frank Bascome the most interesting, insightful & thought provoking character in American literature since Holden Caufield. Over the course of a Fourth of July weekend, Mr. Ford takes us on a journey that moves from the current day to flashbacks in the life of Frank Bascome. He is a real estate agent in a southern New Jersey town and one of his current clients is a couple who are looking for the ideal home. When Frank thinks he has found the right home, they have reservations. Frank never seems to be able to meet the couple's pie-in-the-sky expectations and that is central theme to the book. No matter how hard we try, we never seem to meet of own expectations in life. Frank has had a failed marriage, a failed career as a sportswriter and has entered what he calls an "existance period" in his life. He yearns for the days gone by when as he says "pride still mattered". Mr. Ford's perspectives on life in general are razor sharp and he balances the deepness of the story with the right amount of humor so the book doesn't become too heavy-handed. I recommend this book as highly as any book out there. If you liked "Catcher In The Rye", check this one out. You will not be disappointed.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
I was nervous to read anything that is essentially a sequel of another book that I have never read, but I was more than willing to forego that anxiety given the novel's Pulitzer Prize winning status and that the author is Richard Ford whose collection of short stories Rock Springs is among my favorites. And I don't know that I've ever read a novel that took me this long to get through. There are great things about this novel, but it proceeded so slowly, with a narrator so self-loathing, that I was hardly encouraged to continue. It's never a good sign when you're paying more attention to you page count than what's actually happening in the novel.

What I did like about the writing was that it was so contemplative. As readers we are given so many things to think about that it is hard not to be distracted from the story. I just wonder how much of the story is supplanted by the various ulterior topics. If only more time could have been spent on development of what might be mistaken for the plot in the novel. Not that a man trying to reconcile with his son is not compelling on its own, but Ford doesn't really put things on the line like we'd expect. I just wonder what exactly it was the Pulitzer folks saw here.
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