Let Me Be Frank With You

Let Me Be Frank With You
Let Me Be Frank With You

I love books.

Okay, so that’s not a news flash. I’m a novelist primarily, but have had 4 books of co-authored nonfiction published along with 2 novels. I’m also a book editor.

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.

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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.

Pity that.

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.”

This Post Has 44 Comments

  1. I’ve never been one to be able to sit down and read fiction like many do. I’ve always been into non-fiction, learning something in the process.

    1. Oh, you can learn so much from great fiction, Scott! But I’m just glad you’re reading 🙂

  2. I love reading! Especially fiction so I’m adding this to my read list after I finish a trilogy I’m reading.

  3. Thanks for introducing me to a new author. I love books as well and now I’m curious to read something slightly more challenging.

    1. Ford will definitely challenge you, Nellwyn. But he’s oh-so worth it!

  4. I have not found a good fiction author in a while, looking to expand my library once I find sometime to actually read too. Will keep this in mind.

  5. I don’t know if I would be able to “get him” in the way that you do. I am still a developing reader and writer. But, I do know what it’s like to truly have a piece of writing affect your inner core. And it’s such a wonderful feeling.
    Sometimes, I find that it’s hard for me to move on from those kinds of pieces. It takes me a few weeks, months even, to be ready to pick up another book.

    1. I know that feeling, Divya. When a book truly grabs you, it’s hard to pick up another!

  6. I love reading books but honestly, I have not yet read any of Richard Ford’s books. My preference is varied, going from Crime/Mystery/Suspense to ChicLit to Inspirational/Devotional and Self Improvement. I will have to look for the Frank Bascombe series. You have spiked my interest in them.

    1. Give him a try, Annemarie. Just know that he’s pretty much the antithesis of what you normally read 🙂

  7. Wonderful when you find an author you just can’t get enough of, isn’t it Susan? I’m an avid reader and I love when an author can make you see the extraordinary in ordinary characters. That being said, I haven’t read any of Richard Ford’s books. I have to say I love Grisham books, so maybe Richard Ford will not be for me. I’m curious to try now though.

    1. Ah, yes, Tamuria–when an author brings you such joy! Give Ford a try. Just know he’s 180 degrees opposite from Grisham 🙂

  8. Wow.. what a story indeed. Funny that the author finds someone so fascinating enough to write about even though he is so in love with himself. lol I love books but not nearly as much as you.. but I can relate too.

    1. Frank Bascombe is definitely that, Kristen! In Ford’s hands, he becomes a prophet 🙂

  9. I’ve not read anything by him but you have me wanting to delve into all of his stories! I wish I had more time to read like I did in my teenage years lol!

    1. Try his short stories, Lisa–you can get through one of those in much less time!

  10. Fiction is one of my favorite type of books and stories I must look for this book specially because you are recommending it.

    1. Give him a try, Adriana. But he’s not for the faint-of-heart reader.

    1. Enjoy, Michael! And let us know what you think of it.

  11. In my youth I was an avid Agatha Christie fan and couldn’t read enough. Then I discovered Pearl S Buck and history repeated itself. I’ve been through the Anne Rice phase and then good old Paulo Coelho. The one thread in common with these eclectic writers is that their stories spoke to me and I could imagine what was happening in the story.

    I must check out your recommendation, Susan.

    1. Don’t you love that, Vatsala, when a story just speaks to you. The essence of great fiction!

  12. I am an avid reader Susan and always happy to hear of another author I haven’t read. Thanks! I have two non-fiction books published and one soon to come out. After that I am finishing my novel. Funny for me writing a novel is fun, whereas writing non-fiction fits into my work schedule! Didn’t know you are an editor as well. Just put that in my notes!

    1. I couldn’t agree more, Candess–writing fiction is heaven. Non-fiction is work! Lol

  13. So right, never heard of him or his character Frank. What compels me to consider adding this to my already extensive ‘vacation list’ are your words. I am intrigued by what fabulous authors themselves read & recommend.

    1. That’s so sweet of you, Roz! And give old Frank a try. You’ll either love him or hate him 🙂

  14. Like you, I love to read. Fiction or non-fiction–I enjoy both but choose depending on my mood. It’s funny how a book can creep into our mind and heart, impacting us in such a deep way. I totally get why you didn’t want to finish the book. I’ve done the same but with tv series! I’ve stopped watching before a main character dies or after an episode I feel wrapped things up nicely. The truth is that it’s hard to say goodbye–in real life and in fiction. What a lovely tribute to one of your favorite authors and his books!

    1. Characters become so real to us, don’t they, Meghan! It really is hard to say goodbye!

  15. What a gorgeous and touching homage to a beloved writer. Thank you for sharing, Susan – I well know the feeling of loving a writer so deeply and not wanting a book to end! I hope to read one of his books – which would you recommend starting with?

    1. Of course, I absolutely adore the Frank Bascombe series, and if you’re in for that, start with The Sportswriter. If you’re not sure you want an entire series :), try Canada.

  16. This author sounds intriguing. And even though I am an avid reader of real books that i can hold and physically turn pages…I have not heard of Ford. Will look for one of the original Frank books so I can savor the series in order. Thanks💕

    1. Give him a try, Alene! I still read physical books too 🙂

  17. Frank’s novels sound right up my alley! I could read for days, though I don’t get as much time to do it these days.

  18. I wish I could write as good as you do. I love reading fiction and have been reading since I was 15. In the recent years, I noticed that I read more marketing, business and mindset books. Do you read paperback or books from Kindle? The later is my favorite.

    1. You know, it’s funny, Apolline, maybe it’s my age but I still prefer hard copy 🙂 I don’t even read on my Kindle!

  19. I am intrigued about this book you are reading now. I have many books still that I have to read sitting at my book shelf. My priority at this time though are the travel books as my husband and I are going on a holiday trip in May.

  20. What a lovely tribute, Susan! You have made me want to look up the first in the series to read. I feel such passion in what you wrote about the character, which instantly made me think about how I feel about the characters in my favorite book, Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet.

    1. Don’t you love when characters take you away, Mindy! So glad this made you think of the ones in your fav book!

  21. A great writer and storyteller is always like a revelation for yourself, you think and learn a lot…and as you say, most of the time, they are not the most well-known or sold authors.

    1. I love that, Katarina–that’s the point of great fiction 🙂

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