Rating: 3 stars
I like Richard Ford‘s writing. I like the way he reminds me that the world is just people trying to muddle through, doing their best and occasionally getting it wrong. I like that I recognise myself in the women in his books. I like his character Frank Bascombe. I like the way Ford writes him, and the way I get an insight into how the male mind works, and how men see women. Men like Frank, anyway, who is a man like my father, my brother, a little bit my husband. This time around, though, Frank makes me uncomfortable. I don’t remember him being so plainly racist in the other books. The way he describes Charlotte Pines, his attitude to the Mexican and Chinese people who live in his town, dressed up in the bluff of telling it how it is that seems a universal characteristic of people over a certain age, makes me want to look away. He is, or Ford is, acknowledging the conflict he feels as a white man speaking to a person who doesn’t share his ethnic background, who isn’t racist but is keen to prove himself not racist and so ends up being racist. Unlike Fawlty Towers’ ‘Don’t mention the war’, this doesn’t make me laugh. It makes me cringe.
There’s also the habit Ford has of making Frank tell us things more than once. It doesn’t always come off as a trope, as a nod to people getting older and forgetting what they’ve said and to whom. At times it seems as though Ford has forgotten what he’d written already just a few pages before, or as though a bad editing job has been done on the book. Some passages read like plot development notes that Ford forgot to delete.
But still, I like Frank and, despite its minor faults and awkwardnesses, the slight feeling of disappointment it gave me for not living up to my expectation, the book is still an engaging read.