A Year of Unknown Books: Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford

*Project Recap: For one year, I will read one book per month that I know nothing about that was recommended to me by a stranger; friend; family member, or co-worker; and I will write about that experience.  God help us all.

Let Me Be Frank With You (a Frank Bascombe Book)Richard Ford
by Richard Ford
Book #10, reading during August, 2015

Let Me Be Frank With You (a double entendre concerning the narrator and the expression of his truths) was recommended by a male library patron, most likely double my age, and wonderfully reflects the spirit of this year-long project.  He recommended an unknown book by an unknown (to me) author that in the end, I ended up loving and in no way would have ever picked myself.

The narrator of the four short story compilation is Frank Bascombe, a 60-something upper class New Jersey Democrat who’s trying reconcile the aging process that has forced itself upon him, his friends and family.  This subtly written collection, said to be in the style of William Faulkner and John Updike, is comprised of his observations and interpretation of tangible events in his life, though they are secondary to his internal monologue. He lives in a post-Katrina world where Jersey inhabitants are surveying and calculating their losses, both materially and sacredly.  Throughout the four stories, Frank describes a concrete situation that he’s encountered, and spends the bulk of each story mulling over its meaning in his life, including but not limited to his ex-wife’s illness, the shortcomings of children, friendship and the experience of an aging man.  He untangles these issues with a dry humor that reminded me of my grandfather’s crass and wizened wit, which left me with a heavy and mournful heart.  On the other side of that coin, reading Frank talk about sex and his erection left me with an extreme embarrassment reserved only for granddaughters who deeply wish to believe that their grandfathers are eunuchs.

Being a middle-class woman in her low 30s, this book was like a glimpse into another world, perhaps one that reflects the goings on of the affluent community in which I am employed, especially when compared to the mixed race and economically diverse urban neighborhood in which I’ve lived for the past decade.  The author, by way of the narrator, manages to simultaneously write about a specific type of man’s experience, with fingers that stretch out to tap into what most humans must undergo throughout their lifetime: his long gone career in real estate, the stock market, his second marriage, dying friends, memory, his aging body, and the actualization that the children you’ve created have morphed into beings other than that idealized image that you may have had before their birth, et al. Having not even purchased my first home, living on the salary of a teacher and librarian, and currently inhabiting a face sans wrinkles, Frank’s world is somewhat foreign to me, but led me to a deeper understanding of not only the mind of an old bastard (I mean that in the best way possible), but the collective mentality of a geographic region and and how a masculine gender formed decades ago translates into 2015.

Roald Dahl once said, “The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who live exciting lives.”  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that we all live in bubbles of our own making; we often associate with people of like social classes, sexualities, politics and religions. There was enough in this book to create a sense of kinship based on such issues of race and liberal leanings, but it also propelled me into an unknown age, gender and social class (to which I would only be so lucky to aspire).  Despite what connected me to Frank, or what made me wonder at the otherness of him, what I kept pondering days after the closing of the book was the universal humanness.  When we’re stripped to our bare selves, whether it be through natural disaster, aging, loss of health and relationships, Ford shows us that our pain, laughter and hopefully the wisdom to let go bind us all.

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