Those who have logged time in Minnesota’s rural expanses have some notion of the spiritual and emotional landscape that inhabits much of the work of American author Richard Ford, who will be appearing in St. Paul with Talking Volumes. His 2012 masterpiece Canada depicted a young boy with parents who were young, wild, and in love with one another—and who committed a bank robbery to rescue themselves from self-imposed money trouble.
Canada felt like the culmination of a certain strain in Ford’s impossibly evocative fiction, which speaks in the poetry of befuddlement, alienation, hope, and a desire to make sense of life through minimal truths that might stand up to the high winds of change and unpredictability. It also painted the great upper middle of North America in all its mixed glory: its harshness of climate, its landscapes of banality and beauty, its vastness that lays waste to our dreams of permanence.
Less sparing of words and more complex in sentiment, observation, and caustic humor is the trio of novels Ford penned featuring the character Frank Bascombe. Beginning with The Sportswriter in 1986, these beautifully rendered works trace the thoughts and feelings of one ordinary man through love and loss and decades of change. Whether it’s the shifting landscapes of love, money, or children growing into adults, Bascombe looks on with a quiet yearning and a succession of killer lines running through his head.
There’s this throwaway from Ford’s latest, Let Me Be Frank With You: “What is true is I don’t remember some things that well, owing to the fact that I don’t care all that much.” Like Ford, Bascombe has reached the end of his 60s, in what he calls “the Next Level of life—conceivably the last.” But he can’t stop observing, sensing, searching: the project of trying to make some sense of it all.
2006’s The Lay of the Land was supposed to be the last of the Frank Bascombe novels, but Ford has released this latest—actually a collection of four novellas centered around the aftermath of the Jersey Shore’s destruction from Hurricane Sandy. It’s a welcome coda, and it’s fitting to place Bascombe staring down the destruction of our world’s castles made of sand. Ford’s signature character has traced a path through devastation, fleeting happiness, amusement, and the avenger time. Just like all of us.
Talking Volumes: Richard Ford
Fitzgerald Theater, 12/1