The Sportswriter

The Sportswriter

eBook - 1995
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At the beginning of his career, a young man gives up his chance to become a successful novelist in order to work as a sportswriter.
Publisher: New York : Vintage Books, 1995.
Edition: 2nd Vintage ed.
ISBN: 9780307763709
Characteristics: 1 online resource (347 p.)


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Jul 03, 2020

Frank Bascombe is drifting through life and telling us about it as he goes through it.

He wrote one popular short story collection, then tried unsuccessfully to write a novel. He taught at a small college but succeeded only in seducing an emotionless Muslim grad student before quitting just short of one semester. Ultimately, he took a job as a sportswriter because it required little effort, involvement, or commitment on his part.

His existential crisis began with the death of his young son, which prompted him to quit his novel and embark on a series of one-night stands while traveling away from his wife. His marriage ended when his wife discovered letters from another woman, prompting her to burn the contents of her hope chest. Frank does not bother to tell his wife that he never slept with or even kissed the woman in the letters. He accepts her judgement and their divorce.

Except for an occasional flashback, Richard Ford's 1986 novel "The Sportswriter", is told in the first person and in the present tense. This emphasizes to the reader that we are inside Frank's head, experiencing his thoughts and actions as he does. It is primarily a stream-of-consciousness story and it works.

It works because, although Bascombe is without direction, he is very much self-aware. He accepts his limitations and makes no effort to stretch himself beyond them. He understands his weaknesses - he just is not motivated to correct them. The story often reads like a confession. Frank does not even like sports or people, although his job is to write about both. And he continues with it because he is good at it. It is the path of least resistance.

Frank has no friends. He does not need or want them. He even keeps his young, beautiful, sexy girlfriend at an emotional arm's length; but people confide him - probably because they see him as non-judgmental, although this may be the result of him thinking of other things when pretending to listen to their problems. One casual acquaintance considers Frank his best friend and writes him a letter just before committing suicide.

Ford does an excellent job of building a flawed, yet sympathetic character. I saw many of my own flaws in Bascombe. Although I constantly try to rise above mediocrity, I find that this is often a struggle against my own complacency. The easier path is easier and always tempting.

Mar 06, 2018

OK, after 150 pages of this snoozer I finally got the point of what Ford was trying to say about Bascombe. He's Everyman .... well, sort of. His marriage, his family, his relationships with various women are all slightly screwed up although not a total disaster. He visits a fortune teller, not because he believes a word she says but just because her words are soothing. He's drifting along, a bit dreamy, going nowhere.
There are several minor problems with the book: It's dated (the whole Detroit episode, set in the last stages of that burg's glory days); all the secondary characters, even Vicki are sketchy; his paean to New Jersey is unconvincing; the book is meandering in its attempts to seem contemplative; it's slow, slow, slow; Bascombe is neither likeable nor detestable. Which brings me to the BIG problem: The whole thing is BORING. That is hard to forgive.


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