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March 22, 2004 | by  | in Books |
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Independence Day

Richard Ford – Vintage

Richard Ford was with us in Wellington last week, participating in the Writers and Readers Week, the literature slot of the International Arts Festival, so I thought I’d give one of his books a go and find out a bit about what he’s all about. Turns out it was well worth my while. Ford is a top quality American author who has received both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner award for his novel, Independence Day.

Sequel to The Sportswriter, Independence Day details the workings of Frank Bascombe’s life after some significant changes. Frank, now divorced, parents his two children from a distance, sells real estate, is good at his job, and not very good at relationships, but does try. He leads an unremarkable life but for some reason this middle-aged white man from southern America is intensely likeable. Ford lends his intelligence and perfectly subtle wit, both of uncommon quality, to the character. However, his is by no means a cynical, beaten by life, “middle age crisis” style viewpoint. Frank also encompasses great tenderness, vulnerability and understanding. This makes the novel sweet and feel-good without losing its grasp of reality.

The story in itself is good; it’s modern, real, funny and we can relate to it, but what really makes this book is simply the way that it’s written. It begins, “In Haddam, summer floats over tree-softened streets like a sweet lotion balm from a careless, languorous god, and the world falls in tune with its own mysterious anthems.” The entire book is in fact dripping with such gems. Ford is a supremely talented wordsmith. His writing is superbly articulate and eloquent, the essence of literary beauty. Each sentence is constructed with perfect balance and careful precision to embody thoughtfulness, humanity or humour while at the same time being enticingly, entertainingly readable. I feel like I’m bleating on a bit about how fantastically wonderful this dude is, but it’s true! If you have any appreciation for damn good literature, read Independence Day.

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