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4.0 out of 5 starsThere is something that matters here
Reviewed in the United States on November 17, 2014
I imagine that those of us who have read and enjoyed the first three Bascombe books will greet this as an unexpected treat. For newcomers, it is not the book to start with. As I made my way through the early parts I thought of this as a mere trifle, but it grows on you. Yes, it is slight in length and lacks the weight of the earlier volumes. But there is something very affecting and moving here. And not inconsequential. As Bascombe notes friends can be overrated and friendships may not yield as much insight into this life as we might wish. Bascombe is not exactly a friend, but for me he has become a fellow traveler of sorts. I am grateful for that, and just a tad less lonely.
4.0 out of 5 starsWanna have coffee with Frank Bascombe!!
Reviewed in the United States on November 29, 2014
I have loved Frank Bascombe, with all his quirks, prejudices, failings, for quite some time. Nothing changes now that I've just finished Let Me Be Frank With You. I don't know what Richard Ford does - or how he does it - making Frank Bascombe come alive with all that make him a "real person" that I can love, hate, be annoyed by, and so on. I'm only glad I found Richard Ford when he wrote his first Bascombe book, The Sportswriter. I have never been disappointed. When I talk about Richard Ford and his character, Frank, friends ask me about a plot, or what makes these books so special. Sometimes I do read for plot. . . .but that's not it with reading Ford. I open the book, start reading, and I am actually with Frank - in whatever small New Jersey town he's in - in whatever weather, with him in whatever good or crappy mood. My feeling in reading each of the 4 Bascombe books now is that for the period of time I'm reading the book - I just have this cranky friend right beside me, and I love him. I know exactly where I was when I read each book - I can remember the feeling of satisfaction and how I hated that I had to interrupt my reading to do my own life.
This last book is not the same as the first three. But, it seems fitting. It is four novelettes tied together by the main character, Frank. And he's aging - much of what I liked about this book is his own annoyance at aging, and his somehow not-fully-satisfactory attempts to put meaning in his retirement. That sure resonates with me. . he wonders about his volunteer work, time spent with old acquaintences, previous clients, what his relationship is with his ex-wife. He's honestly unsure of his footing in so many situations. I think that's spot on as we age.
For anyone who's had the pleasure of knowing Frank Bascombe from Ford's three previous novels - you're in for another wonderful ride. I want to have coffee with Frank Bascombe and Rabbit Angstrom.
5.0 out of 5 stars‘Life is a matter of subtractions’: But Don’t Subtract This Novel
Reviewed in the United States on November 19, 2014
I cannot recall when I read a book and then immediately re-read it—but that’s exactly what I did with Richard Ford’s latest—the fourth in his Frank Bascombe series, :”Let Me Be Frank with You”—with Frank now 68-years-old and retired from the real estate business and just a few years younger than me! As is true of the author as well. Like the other three novels, this one is also in first person (confession: I haven’t read the other three but will do so and actually just started the first). And the voice is so rich, filling the novel with the most delicious sentences—he just loves dashes and parentheses as do I—some of which will, I think, be often quoted in the future. For example, when Frank visits his sort-of old friend, Eddie, in Hospice care, Frank says, “Possibly he’s practicing being a corpse.” I know! You laughed when you knew you shouldn’t. So be prepared to do so when reading this novel. I don’t know how some women might respond to this oh-so-very-male voice, not that he says anything that is really offensive. But he certainly does get into the specifics of being a male who is moving far too rapidly toward death. As I read this novel, I was often reminded of the time I read the four Rabbit novels by John Updike. (By the way, both Updike and Ford won a Pulitzer for one of them!) This novel is set against the backdrop of the aftermath of what Hurricane Sandy brought to the people in New Jersey. The work is actually four inter-connected stories (novellas or very long short stories) much as “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout is (it too won a Pulitzer). Houses become the central metaphor beginning with one that Frank and his second wife (she’s busy providing grief counselling for those impacted by the mammoth storm) once owned and which has been toppled. Then in the second story, Frank is home alone when a middle aged black woman shows up and wishes to see the house she once lived in. I never expected the ending of this story! Then in the third he visits the plush retirement-type condominium owned by his first wife who has Parkinson’s. And in the last set on Christmas Eve day, he visits Eddie, dying in Hospice care provided by the most wonderful character, a large black woman in her early sixties named Finesse who, at one point outside the bedroom door where the two men are, says, “You all still alive in there?” That is so funny—and not! In this story the narrator says, “Life if a matter of subtractions,” a major theme of the novel. And for people my age, we know that truth. We read about people younger than us who have died. We willingly give things we’ve owned to anyone willing to take them. And our aches and pains say that our bodies are in the process of subtracting, of contracting. And Frank thinks that when it is his time for Hospice care that he wants Finesse to be the care-giver. (I want her too!) The last two pages of the novel may cause a swelling of the tear ducts as Frank and the oil delivery man meet and part on Christmas Eve. When Terry Gross interviewed Richard Ford on “Fresh Air,” he spoke about how he writes down all types of sentences he finds or thinks up. And this novel is packed with the most wonderful, fresh sentences—oh so new to the written page. This is one of my favorites and one I suspect people my age can readily relate to: “But what I mostly want to do is nothing I don’t want to do.” And what I did want to do when I finished reading this novel was to immediately re-read it. You might as well.
Set in 2012, this novel finds Frank in his twilight years, retired in Haddam, with his ex-wife, now a Parkinson’s sufferer, living nearby in an upmarket care home. He’s preparing for Christmas, in the aftermath of a hurricane which devastated the New Jersey Shore. The novel is essentially a series of encounters with the past, forming an all-too-brief final book in a beautifully crafted series (assuming it is!). Full of Frank’s pragmatic wisdom, with some genuinely comedic scenes and observations; overall there’s a bittersweet, nostalgic tone. A fitting end to this Updikean quartet.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 29, 2014
This book is a real treat. I'd read 20 Bascombe novels if there were 20. It's the stoic humourous exasperated voice and the wonderful vividness with which the scenes slowly evolve. Here we have 4 linked encounters, all to do with death, damage and loss, and it should be harrowing but Bascombe remains unharrowed for us. The world seems a better place with someone like him in it, more intelligent anyway, and Ford's prose has a kind of absolute clarity.
4.0 out of 5 starsFourth and presumably final instalment in the Frank Bascombe series - something of a triumph
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 1, 2016
Four short stories in which the now 68 year old Frank Bascombe visits a former home he's sold some years before as an estate agent, but which has now been destroyed by a hurricane, welcomes a visitor to his current home who lived there in the past and recounts a traumatic tale, visits his ex-wife now suffering from Parkinson's and in sheltered accommodation, then visits an acquaintance from his youth now dying who tells him something he'd probably rather not know about the long-distant past when they were both much younger. Through it all, Frank continues in his now familiar and distinctive voice, philosophising lightly about life and how best to live through all these encounters.
This is something of a small triumph. I only slowly learned to love the Bascombe novels as I read through them one after another (pretty much), but I did come to appreciate Frank - and his creator - greatly. I was very pleased to have this opportunity for a fourth - and presumably final - instalment in the series.
Unless you are a confirmed Richard Ford enthusiast I would not recommend this book. I confess I have struggled with Ford before but I liked Canada and thought I should try this since I am at much the same stage of life as Frank Bascombe. Sadly I found the prose convoluted, the humour bleak and the tone off key. Bascombe claims to be shedding unnecessary vocabulary. But I have never needed to consult the dictionary as much as I had to in this book. It was as if it had been written with a thesaurus to hand. Perhaps the irony was intended but if so it was overdone. I attended a University in the USA and lived and worked there for five years but I found the myriad of social and cultural references unintelligible at times. Others may love that kind of inwardness but it became irritating. One for devotees only.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 11, 2015
Frank Bascombe is a contemporary, and so many of his observations chime with how I see the world in which I live - except that I could never write them with such acuity.
I'm sure that there are shelves full of self-help books for men getting older, but I'd say that this book is as valuable a vade mecum to later years as any piece of non-fiction. Plus it's probably better-written, and more humorous. Maybe this is the last Bascombe book? I hope not - especially since it'd mean losing another favourite literary character on top of Wallander, whom Henning Mankell left drifting into Alzheimer's. It's bad enough that that disease affects real people, without fictional characters contracting it. Art imitating life, perhaps?