Thursday, August 21, 2008

What I read: "Independence Day" by Richard Ford

Richard Ford's "Independence Day" won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It reminded me a lot of John Updike's "Rabbit Is Rich," without the loathsome characters. (Updike won the Pulitzer in 1982 for that book and again in 1991 for "Rabbit At Rest.") The book tells the story of Frank Bascombe's Independence Day weekend. Bascombe, once a short story and sports writer, is now a real estate agent. Divorced and living in what he calls his "existence period," Bascombe goes through the motions of showing houses to a difficult couple, deciding whether or not to end a lukewarm relationship and trying to get to the heart of the matter with his troubled teenage son.

Both books tell a story of the Everyman and a slice of his life. Angstrom is a car salesman. Bascombe is a real estate agent. Both have troubled sons. Angstrom has a seemingly troubled marriage, while Bascombe marriage is over. While Bascombe bears a resemblance to "Rabbit" Angstrom, he's more self-aware and likable. That might also come from "Independence Day" being written in the first person.

The books share a certain tone of despair and hope. The characters seem to despair when things look most hopeful and are most hopeful when all seems lost. But, while I struggled to get through "Rabbit is Rich" or even care about one character in the book, I relished "Independence Day" and found myself hoping for the best for everyone.

It's not an exciting book. You won't find car chases or shoot outs. Although, there is a tense scene involving a batting cage. It's a fairly quiet book, with vivid descriptions of New Jersey towns and the countryside. I finished reading the book last week, and although it has stuck with me, I found I didn't have much to say about it. I suppose that can be said about my own life at times.