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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why I Have No Use For Richard Ford

posted by on March 22 at 12:55 PM

Over at The Morning News, Maud Newton pits Richard Ford’s latest novel, The Lay of the Land against Kate Atkinson’s newest, One Good Turn. Granted, Turn is a totally boring and unnecessary sequel to the very good Case Histories, but it has to be better than anything by Richard Ford, whose career is one of the great mysteries of American literature. Maud explains her distaste for Ford’s main character, Frank Bascombe and Ford’s writing in general (emphasis mine):

He sells houses, lusts after his daughter’s girlfriend (who is “teeth-gnashingly beautiful,” unlike “your standard lesbian”), fantasizes about punching people, repeatedly congratulates himself for his good sense in voting for Gore rather than “idiot Bush,” and drives an SUV. Boy, does he ever drive that Chevy Suburban: up and down the turnpike, through every ethnic neighborhood in the vicinity, surveying the passersby as he goes. At one intersection stands a “shiny-legged Latina” whose “stiff little butt” faces oncoming traffic. A large man who steps out of a Cadillac is probably Italian, although his “spruced-up appearance” suggests he could be Greek, which “wouldn’t be better.” Here we have some “Chinamen.” There we have the academy where “even the Arab and Sri Lankan kids” are rich. And in the Northeast, in 1999, we have a multitude of “Negroes.”

It’s a very brief very exasperated study of the most overrated author of the twentieth century.

Or, if novels aren’t your thing, here is a link to a (possibly plagarized) list of the most unintentionally funny comic book panels of all time, featuring the Joker planning to terrorize Gotham city with his boners, Archie saving Betty by giving three burly men handjobs, and Lois Lane’s torrid evening with an anal-sex loving robot.

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Agreed--I tried to read The Sportswriter ages ago, and I couldn't believe how banal it was. I kept reading and reading--the guy's One Of America's Literary Lights, right? just got less and less interesting.

Posted by Seth | March 22, 2007 1:36 PM

To handpick a few moments in the latest Ford novel is fine, but also somewhat unfair. The Sportswriter and Independence Day are really good novels.

Posted by John Williams | March 22, 2007 2:16 PM

Read "Rock Springs".

Posted by DOUG. | March 22, 2007 2:22 PM

Of course, all characters in novels are exactly like the novelist. Unpleasant characters in a novel are proof positive that the novelist himself is a jerk; and novels should be judged entirely on how much you personally like the characters in them.

Posted by Fnarf | March 22, 2007 3:24 PM

good (sarcastic) point, fnarf. i was thinking the same thing. the fact that the character is a smug, fatuous racist does not prove it's a bad book. eudora welty wrote about the southern version of characters like this, often. not to say it ISN'T a bad book, just that this example is not proof of such.

Posted by ellarosa | March 23, 2007 11:13 AM

'A Piece of My Heart' and 'Rock Springs' are terrific, but that stuff is 25 years old and more. I thought when 'The Sportswriter' came out that its placid surface was ironic, but the sequel's dive into full upper middle-class lifestyle obsession put me off forever. And he's still at it. 'The Ultimate Good Luck' (before Sportswriter) is where it breaks down - the sensitivity of the author of 'Heart' and 'Rock' with a megagringo's antihuman persnickitiness about the messiness of cities, poverty, humanity. I won't get the quote exactly right, but there he says something like: 'From a distance Mexican cities look like oases, and American cities like disassembled nightmares, but when you get down on the ground to them, the case is exactly the reverse.' That was when I started to wonder how much other b.s. his work contained, and bailed. But 'Rock Springs' is devastating.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | March 23, 2007 12:40 PM

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