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The Sportswriter – Andy still doesn’t understand American football

November 21, 2012

… and no doubt never will.

Or was it bastketball? Or baseball, maybe? Not sure. Maybe there were players and games of all three persuasions featured. I missed that.

What I didn’t miss: Ford’s sly humour. Could’ve done with a bit more of it, to be honest. Quite a bit more. His deft, subtle subversion of the American male archetype, something I think he has in common with Updike in Rabbit, Run (Netty will disagree ferociously on this point). His insightful and nonjudgmental depiction of a relationship between an older (pfft, 38, five years younger than me), intelligent, arguably self-aware man and a younger (30, I think), less intelligent, arguably self-aware, but perhaps in different ways, woman. You could probably say something similar about Frank Bascombe’s relationship with his wife, actually, except for the age bit. And the intelligence bit. So OK no, maybe you couldn’t say something similar after all.

I liked the depiction of the arguably bisexual, probably gay “best” friend, who is barely a friend. (I guessed his fate, though.) I liked Frank’s kids. Could’ve done withmore of them, actually. Could’ve done with more of the wife. Could’ve done with less of the girlfriend. The stuff in Detroit with the girlfriend – blah. The stuff in the town outside of Detroit with the crippled football star (or baseball star, or basketball star) – that was good. That was impressive. Bordered on sublime, even. And the Easter Sunday lunch scene is brilliant. Awkward, heartwarming, trying to be heartbreaking and knowing that it’s failing – Really well done.

The Sportswriter is, essentially, a book about failure. Frank Bascombe wrote a successful book of short stories as a 20 something, then started a novel, then was asked to write “sports”, as they say in the States. And then gave up all hope of ever being a “real writer” again. Ford has his narrator use those words – “real writer” – to distinguish writers of fiction from journalists of any persuasion a number of times. The self-deprecation doesn’t ring terribly true, and probably isn’t supposed to.

Bascombe has failed as a “real writer”. He’s failed as a husband. Subliminally he feels he’s failed as a parent. In the past he’s failed as a teacher. On this particular Easter weekend, he fails as a boyfriend. He fails as a friend. He even fails as a sportswriter. Even as the book’s last chapter brings him something that lifts him from despair he knows it’s not going to work.

In its depiction of the heterosexual American male The Sportswriter reminded me sharply of Rabbit, Run. Rabbit is much younger, and living well over two decades earlier, but still. There’s crossover thematically, I think. Plenty crossover. Netty disagrees, but that’s because she hated Rabbit, Run, and I quite liked it.

I didn’t hate The Sportswriter, but I didn’t like it much. Rabbit, Run and The Sportswriter are both the first books in cycles. I haven’t got back to Updike’s later books yet but I’m planning to. I might give Ford’s sequel, Independence Day, a crack sometime but to be honest it’s not a priority. He clearly takes himself terribly seriously as a writer and that’s not always a bad thing, though it very, very rarely – if ever – is a good thing.

So well written and sometimes engaging, but ultimately a bit … meh.

In closing, and for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, I would like to quote a line from aforesaid impressive Easter Sunday lunch scene, and suggest such words will never, ever, be used about my blogging partner in crime: “Lynette has transformed her dining room into a hot little jewel box.”

Make of that what you will.

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