I love books.
So books are pretty much what I do.
But I write and edit and speak at literary conferences because, well, I love words and reading and stories and books.
Which is how I got into my professions in the first place.
And some authors, I simply can’t get enough of. Most of the time, these are brilliant authors whom few have heard of, except in Literary circles. You know—the kind the masses don’t read.
Thank God, however, those folks persist and craft exquisite novels with words that simply take my breath away.
One of those authors is Richard Ford. Yep—quite the household name! Only readers of Literary (and of course, folks within the industry) know who he is. Even though he’s published a litany of books (11) and short stories and even won a Pulitzer Prize. And was a NY Times bestselling author for Canada (which funny enough, was his most panned in reviews).
Still, to the masses (even those who read), blank stares respond to his name.
He’s brilliant. And a master. I’ve read everything he’s written, and love it all. But his Frank Bascombe series caught my very soul with the first book, The Sportswriter, decades ago. It was for the second in the series, Independence Day, that he won both the Pulitzer and the Pen/Faulkner Award (the only writer ever to win both for a single novel). Bet you thought that last title was in reference to a truly terrible apocalyptic film of the same name.
Originally there was to be a trilogy of Frank Bascombe books. So I cried when I finished The Lay of the Land, just not ready to give up on old Frank.
Full disclosure: Frank Bascombe isn’t for everybody. He’s not a renowned neurosurgeon. Nor the Captain of the Intergalactic Forces. He’s neither famous nor over the top in any way.
Frank is just an average guy. Husband, spouse, failed novelist. We go with him through the novels from being a sportswriter to a realtor and finally, retired.
Before the first book began, he’d suffered the unbearable sorrow—the loss of a child. And we travel with him through those first and second titles, watching the unraveling of his life, his marriage, and the impact on the entire family.
Doesn’t sound like a very promising premise, does it.
And Frank is a quite flawed man as well. Self-absorbed doesn’t begin to describe him. Narcissistic would be a compliment. Protean then often painfully honest.
I bet you’re really turned on by this story and character so far, no? Lol.
It’s the essence of fabulous fiction, by an elegant writer reaching the pinnacle of this game.
But he’s all of us, muddling through. Trying to make sense of it all.
And the saving grace? He’s witty, acerbic, laconic, with the most beautiful insights ever to be seen.
Methinks he’s a lot of Richard Ford.
So imagine the surge of my heart when in 2014, another Frank Bascombe book arrived—Let Me Be Frank With You. I mean, this series was a trilogy, no?
But I think Ford feels the same as I do about old Frank—once he grabs you, he’s just nearly impossible to let go.
So, you know what I did? Ordered and read the first half of it. Savored every word. Ah, the exquisite prose in the hands of a writer at the very top of his game.
And then just could not finish it. Just could not. I know this is the last, the end, the finale. And I just haven’t been able to let that character go.
Until last weekend. All this time later, finally, I could not not finish it. Frank’s been calling me. Haunting me.
Why now? Who knows! Except maybe since I’ve been playing with this plethora of puppies, my mind has finally stilled.
And of course, it’s everything I knew it would be. Filled with Frank’s/Ford’s brilliance and insight and the prose, oh my god. No one today writes like Ford does.
And yep, it takes a true love for great writing to get him. Even folks I know who read Literary don’t get through his works (boring, one friend said). In today’s culture of things blowing up and blasting away and Grisham being king, well, “quiet” books don’t get read.
And I would imagine if you’re not used to being challenged by prose, challenged by a non-stereotypical character, forced to pause and truly think about what just happened or was said or thought, this would be a shocking jolt to the system.
But for me, it’s the essence of fabulous fiction, by an elegant writer reaching the pinnacle of this game.
Thank you, Richard Ford. Thank you, Frank Bascombe. You’ve given me some of the greatest pleasures, the deepest loves, the most breathtaking insights of my life.
Just thank you.
Because as Frank says, “Love isn’t a thing, after all, but an endless series of single acts.”
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.