Politics Magazine

The Lay of the Land

Posted on the 18 January 2015 by Erictheblue


I'm coming toward the conclusion to The Lay of the Land, the third installment in Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe chronicle.  In his New York Times review, Michiko Kakutani wrote:

This novel showcases many of Mr. Ford’s gifts: his ability to capture the nubby, variegated texture of ordinary life; his unerring ear for how ordinary people talk; his talent for conjuring up subsidiary characters with a handful of brilliant brushstrokes. But it is a padded, static production, far more overstuffed with unnecessary asides and digressions than its predecessors. Nearly every minute of these three days in Frank’s life is chronicled in this nearly 500-page volume, which means that the reader has to hear about every time he needs to visit the men’s room, every time he gets in his car, every time he has a phone conversation.

As an instance of Ford's "talent for conjuring up subsidiary characters with a handful of brilliant brushstrokes," I put forward the following one-sentence "conjuring" of a character--an ex of Frank's friend Wade--who never appears on stage:

Lynette was Wade's wife number two, a tiny Texas termagant and Catholic crackpot who left him to enter a Maryknoll residence in Bucks County, where she became a Christian analyst auditing the troubled life stories of others like herself, until she had an embolism, assigned her benefits to the nuns and croaked.

I'm not wholly unsympathetic to Kakutani's view, but I suspect that, if asked whether this side flight or that one or another or another or this one or that in this long sprawl of a book should have been trimmed, I'd have a hard time voting to cut almost any particular passage.  Certainly Ms Maryknoll has to stay.  It's been said that in books about baseball no one ever hits a foul ball.  Well, Frank fouls some off, and I guess I like seeing those swings as well.

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