I THINK this is a very 1980s novel. It’s a very male novel too, but it’s not really very chauvinistic or sexist. I was talking about it with my girlfriend and she suggested it might just be a very northeastern novel. I am not sure which, but what I mean by this is that the main character focuses a lot of energy thinking about people’s ethnic background (so lots of “Pollacks,””Jews,” and “Negroes”) and how it tracks with or doesn’t track with their behavior. One way to think about this element through might be to place these concerns alongside the character’s own person decline.
Frank Bascombe is having a bad week, a bad couple years, and mostly a bad upheaval of his own sense of purpose/potential. He doesn’t wallow in it much through the novel, but he ruminates on for the entirety of the novel. He isn’t whiny, and he does have real pain. His young son died a few years back and this created a large enough rift between he and his wife that they divorced. Now a few years on, they still have an ok friendship/partnership for the sake of their shared pain and their remaining children, but Frank doesn’t even tell us her name in the novel, referring to her only as “X.” He is also a member of a local divorced men club where, again, the focus is not particularly on whining or blaming (this isn’t really a precursor to Men’s Rights Activists by any stretch) but more a place to be around, talk with, and be men. This choice is not about “being themselves” so much as just not having to be anything. But their performance of masculinity is strangely antiquated as it still involves golf, cigars, and talking about who your ex-wife is about to marry.
Frank also has a girlfriend, a not exceedingly much younger nurse, who is sweet, but not very challenging. Part of the plot of this novel, which takes place over a long Easter weekend that includes a visit to her family’s home, a work-related events, and nothing much else. This is more of a thinking about stuff novel than a doing stuff novel. Frank is neither figuring it all out or tearing it all apart, he is just kind of spinning, struggling, and moving forward.
The novel does a pretty competent job of narrating a man who has lost direction and purpose, but not lost “everything.” But at the same time, while I identify Frank as real and occasionally identify with Frank (he is about to turn 39 and I am 35), I don’t feel very much for him outside of his real losses. I am sure it hard to be him, but for someone so self-aware, he is just isn’t that self-aware. Maybe this novel is for someone else or maybe this just is it. I think a lot of the writing is really good, but then the character (and maybe the author) feels the need to speak in goofy fake hokum, like always calling New York city “Gotham.” And some others like that. Also, this isn’t going to give you much insight into the life a sportswriter.
“My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
For the past fourteen years I have lived at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey, in a large Tudor house bought when a book of short stories I wrote sold to a movie producer for a lot of money, and seemed to set my wife and me and our three children–two of whom were not even born yet–up for a good life.
Just exactly what that good life was–the one I expected–I cannot tell you now exactly, though I wouldn’t say it has not come to pass, only that much has come in between. I am no longer married to X, for instance. The child we had when everything was starting died, though there are two others, as I mentioned, who are alive and wonderful children.
I wrote half of a short novel soon after we moved here from New York and then put it in the drawer, where it has been ever since, and from which I don’t expect to retrieve it unless something I cannot now imagine happens.”