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The Lay of the Land Hardcover – October 24, 2006

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Editorial Reviews Review

After more than a decade, Richard Ford revives Frank Bascombe, the beloved protagonist from The Sportswriter and Independence Day. Fans will be scrambling for The Lay of the Land, a novel that finds Bascombe contending with health, marital, and familial issues wake of the 2000 presidential election. We asked Richard Ford to tell us a little more about what it's like to create (and share so much time with) a character like Frank. Read his short essay below. --Daphne Durham

Richard Ford on Frank Bascombe

I never think of the characters I write as exactly people, the way some writers say they do, letting their characters "just take over and write the book;" or for that matter, in the way I want readers to think of them as people, or even as I think of characters in novels I myself read (and didn't write). In my own books I do all the writing--the characters don't. And for me to think of them as people, instead of as figures made of language, would make my characters less subject to the useful and necessary changes that occur as I grow in my own awareness about them as I make them up. Writing a character for twenty-five years and for three novels, as I have written about Frank Bascombe, has meant that Frank has, of course, become a presence in my life (and a welcome one). When I wrote Independence Day I began with the belief that Frank was pretty much the same character and presence he was in The Sportswriter. But when I went back later and read parts of The Sportswriter, I found that the sentences Frank "spoke" and that filled that second book were longer, more complex, and actually contained more nitty experience than the first book. This has also been true of The Lay of the Land: longer sentences, more experience to reconcile and transact, more words required to make lived life seem accessible. You could say that Frank had simply changed as we all do. But practically speaking--as his author--what this makes me think is that I've had to make up Frank up newly each time, and have not exactly "gone back" and "found" him--although Frank's history from the previous books has certainly needed to be kept in sight and made consistent. What is finally consistent to me about Frank is that I "hear" language I associate with him, and it is language that pleases me, with which I and he can (if I'm a good enough writer) represent life in an intelligent and hopeful and buoyant spirit a reader can make use of. --Richard Ford

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Frank Bascombe meticulously maps New Jersey with a realtor's rapacious eye, and he is an equally intense topographer of his teeming inner landscape. In the first of Ford's magisterial Bascombe novels (The Sportswriter, 1986), Frank staved off feelings of loss and regret with a dissociated "dreaminess." He graduated to a more conventional detachment during what he calls the "Existence Period" of the Pen/Faulkner and Pulitzer Prize–winning Independence Day (1995). Now we find the 55-year-old former fiction writer and sports journalist in a "Permanent Period," a time of being, not becoming. He's long adjusted to the dissolution of his first marriage to women's golf instructor Ann Dykstra (which foundered 17 years earlier after the death of their nine-year-old, firstborn son, Ralph) and settled for eight years with second wife Sally Caldwell in Sea-Clift, N.J. Permanence has proven turbulent: Sally has abandoned Frank for her thought-to-be-dead first husband, and Frank's undergone treatment for prostate cancer.The novel's action unfolds in 2000 over the week before Thanksgiving, as Frank bemoans the contested election, mourns the imminent departure of Clinton ("My President," he says) and anticipates with measured ambivalence the impending holiday meal: his guests will include his 27-year-old son, Paul, a once-troubled adolescent grown into an abrasive "mainstreamer," who writes for Hallmark in Kansas City, Mo., and his 25-year-old daughter, Clarissa, a glamorous bisexual Harvard grad who's unfailingly loyal to her dad. Frank's quotidian routines are punctuated by weird but subtly depicted events: he happens on the scene of a bombing at the hospital in his former hometown of Haddam, N.J., clenches his jaw through an awkward meeting with Ann, provokes a bar fight and observes the demolition of an old building. But the real dramatic arc occurs in Frank's emotional life—until the climax takes him out of his head. Ford summons a remarkable voice for his protagonist—ruminant, jaunty, merciless, generous and painfully observant—building a dense narrative from Frank's improvisations, epiphanies and revisions. His reluctance to "fully occupy" his real estate career ("it's really about arriving and destinations, and all the prospects that await you or might await you in some place you never thought about") illuminates the preoccupations of the boomer generation; for Frank, an unwritten novel and broken relationships combine with the dwindling fantasy of endless possibility—in work and in love—to breed doubt: "Is this it?" and "Am I good?" Frank wonders. The answers don't come easy. 150,000 announced first printing. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679454683
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679454687
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #782,443 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 54 people found the following review helpful By prisrob TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"This novel showcases many of Mr. Ford's gifts: his ability to capture the nubby, variegated texture of ordinary life; his unerring ear for how ordinary people talk; his talent for conjuring up subsidiary characters with a handful of brilliant brushstrokes.

Frank Bascombe, real estate manager, aka sportswriter and novelist, is in the prime of his life. He is on what he describes as ""the permanent phase" of his life, the period when life "starts to look like a destination rather than a journey". He is 55, his second wife has left him for her first husband, he has prostate cancer, his daughter is moving from her lesbian phase, to what exactly? His son has a girlfriend and wants a relationship with his father. But Paul, the son is overbearing and, what was it that Frank did not give him? His first wife, Anne, calls and wants to start another relationship, But, do they really love each other? These and other life problems all emerge within three days of this 500 page novel.

These three days take place in 2000. I began to see the irony in Frank's thinking when he said his life was going down a permanent road, just when the election of Bush has just taken place. There is no peace in America or in Frank's life at this time. We find that events and tragedy's spring up around us at all times. Frank realizes he has fear for 'The Lay of the Land' in 2000, and, as we all know 9/11/2001 is just around the corner. We have the luxury of looking back as Frank tells his story.

Some parts of this novel are too limiting, the explosion in the local hospital, and one of the police officers must question him as a suspect but that never occurs. His first wife has but a small part in the novel, and it is confusing.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By L. Quido VINE VOICE on February 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Having written his first two tomes in 1986 and 1996, author Richard Ford seems poised to end Frank Bascombe's story as he approaches the age of 60; with a decade's gap. Ford is a marvelous writer of prose, and while much of the book takes place in Bascombe's thoughts, we are treated to dialogue in his encounters with friends and foes from the earlier books, as well as a new character or two - notably his employee, realtor Mike Mahoney, who is a Tibetan Buddhist and a consummate capitalist.

In addition to the ups and downs of normal life, as the book opens Bascombe muses on his own mortality. He has suffered from prostrate cancer for which he is treated at the Mayo clinic with a procedure that sounds like a clinical trial, so incomprehensible is it to me to be walking around with radioactive pellets in your body.

It is this sense of ongoing danger and risk that sets the tone for the musings of Bascombe, as he looks back on his successes and failures during the "permanent period" of his life....where he's reached his destination on the Jersey shore, instead of continuing his journey. But where his thoughts on life and death seemed to spur his actions in the first two novels, in "The Lay of the Land", they seem somewhat incidental to a series of unrelated, ordinary happenings. There are whole sections of the book, that, while descriptive, seem to go nowhere. Eventually, as you bog down and wonder where Ford is taking you, you start to be bothered by his lengthy descriptive passages for ordinary incidentals. In short, where the first two books gave depth and sincerity to writer/realtor Bascombe, this third novel becomes tedious.

I must say I'm disappointed, because after the first chapter, "Are You Ready to Meet Your Maker?
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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Barefoot Contessa on October 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I love this series and have waited patiently for further Frank Adventures. The wait has paid off. Yes, it's a long book; and yes there is some repetition, but the amazing wit and insightfullness of the writer's ability to plunge the depths of Frank's soul is astounding. Each sentence is wonderfully crafted with twists and turns that tug at your soul and at other times make you laugh outloud; he paints images that stay with you; notes situations and and experiences that plague all of us 50 somethings. I thought it was a fabulous read. Not a quick read, but one to be savoured by the fire this winter. He makes me laugh that warm human bittersweet laugh of recognition. *** I subsequently went ahead and got the AUDIO version .. wow ...Go ahead a treat yourself .. get this audio and listen to the wonderful narrator (Joe Barret) tell Frank Bascombe's story. This is a book that is meant to be heard out loud. I am not an audiobook fan, but this reading has won me over. The writing is heart-wrenchingly touching and the reading supports the writing 100 per cent. I laughed, I cried. Gee whiz, it's good stuff.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Ogorman on January 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As the guardian of Frank Bascombe's life and times, Richard Ford faces in this third book a two-pronged dilemma: First, how to continue the trend of surpassed expectations for the product, and, second, how to keep it fresh. In the end, an alienated protaganist who squats inside our heads for twenty-five years is either going to start having wacky things happen to him, or start to sound tediously self-absorbed, or both. In The Lay of the Land, sadly, it's both. Several of the things that happen to Frank in this book (as things can only happen to Frank) are so implausible as to make them, paradoxically, predictable--as if the only person they could have happened to is the person to whom they must. Moreover, a guy who, after twenty-five years of behaving in these very ways, can still leave his house to squirrel-up a routine real estate deal when he knows he is about to receive the most important telephone call of his recent life, seems at this point less deserving of our sympathy as a modern anti-hero, and more as someone in immediate and lasting need of some heavy-duty counseling. All in all, a disappointing effort from a true virtuoso of the modern form. Sorry, Richard. Sorry, Frank. Sorry, everyone.
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