Richard Ford's first novel in over a decade is by definition a major literary event. Lay of the Land continues the arc begun in The Sportswriter (1985) and Independence Day (1995), following the trail of everyman Frank Bascombe. The novel opens in November 2000, in days of hanging chads and uncertain futures. As Bascombe contemplates his own life, he grapples with his own uncertainties, especially issues of health and family and marriage. The author's deep engagement with his main character is apparent as you read this funny, wise, and thoroughly heartening book.
The novel’s lovely last sentence evokes "our human scale upon the land," and that touch of grandiloquence is well earned. By now, we have gotten to know Frank Bascombe well enough to take his measure, and to appreciate that, like almost no one else in our recent literature, he’s life-size.
The New York Times
… it's a testament to Ford's mastery that we never tire of Frank's company. Whether we're battling rush-hour traffic with him, joining him for a few highballs while his car is in the shop, accompanying him on a client visit or just listening in while he returns some phone calls, we always feel lucky to hang out with him and hear what he has to say. Frank Bascombe -- a divorced, middle-aged New Jersey real-estate agent with health problems, kid problems, ex-wife problems and a deep, submerged grief that erupts volcanically from time to time -- has become our unlikely Virgil, guiding us through the modern American purgatory of big-box stores along frontage roads, slowly decaying town squares and leafy, secret-harboring suburbs. He's there to remind us that glimmering meaning is hiding everywhere, even in the ugliest or most banal of places.
The Washington Post
Frank Bascombe, Ford's former fiction writer and sports journalist who we have seen age and change since Ford introduced him in 1986's The Sportswriter, must be one of the most difficult fictional characters to bring to audio life. His moods and mindsets shift like the shores of his native New Jersey, where at 55 he now sells real estate, and keeping them clear and credible requires a reader of subtle and impeccable judgment. Barrett, a veteran stage, film and television actor, has a voice that should make listeners think they're hearing Frank tell his own story. He catches every nuance from the odd to the tragic, making the breakup of two marriages, a life-threatening disease and the disappointment over a son's career choice as vital a part of Bascombe's story as his strange mental journeys, which are often triggered by headlines or TV news items. A sharp, revealing interview with author Ford is part of this very large, extremely important audio package. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Sept. 11). (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
In 1985, Ford published The Sportswriter and with protagonist Frank Bascombe began an epic story of the everyman. Ten years later, Bascombe returned in Ford's Independence Day, winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, a feat never before accomplished by a single work of fiction. Here, Ford revisits the story in 2000, as Bascombe deals with prostate cancer, his second divorce, and the controversial presidential election fiasco. He has moved to the Jersey shore, where he sells real estate and, over the course of 500 pages, does nothing particularly important except host a postnuclear family Thanksgiving get-together to which, against his better judgment, he has invited his ex-wife and emotionally explosive son. But, as in many literary classics, the beauty of this novel is in its presentation the word choice and perfect phrases and in Bascombe's unwaveringly honest and humorous narration. Ford manages to become his character and remove authorial boundaries, transforming his novel into a story told to us by an old friend. A fitting way to complete the Frank Bascombe legacy; recommended for public and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.] Stephen Morrow, Columbus, OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
The third and most eventful novel in the Frank Bascombe series takes a whiplash turn from comedy (occasionally slapstick) toward tragedy. Every ten years or so, Ford returns to Bascombe, whose debut in The Sportswriter (1986) provided the author's popular breakthrough and whose encore in Independence Day (1995) merited the Pulitzer. Where there were considerable differences between the first novel and the follow-up-in which the once-promising writer and aspiring novelist settles for a comfortable living as a real-estate agent-the third sticks closer to the second's template. Once again, Frank ruminates on his existence over an extended holiday, in this case Thanksgiving 2000, when the country is in the midst of millennial tremors and a contested presidential election. It seems that neither death nor divorce may be permanent in Bascombe's life. He is now separated from his second wife, who had presumably been a widow, but whose first husband returns to the scene, while Frank's first wife (now widowed by her second husband) gives signs that she wants to reconcile with him. His son and daughter are now adults, with complicated adult problems and relations with their parents. Frank has moved from Haddam, N.J., a suburb much changed by gentrification and cultural diversity, to a resort community on the shore, where he now sells homes and cottages with a Tibetan refugee, a Buddhist who has Americanized his name as Mike Mahoney. At the age of 55, Frank also suffers from prostate cancer, which has brought him to the autumn of his years (hence, Thanksgiving) earlier than most. As always, Frank prefers to react than act, to roll with the punches thrown by those who wish he were someone other thanwho he is. Over the course of three days culminating in a holiday dinner, he absorbs more punches than at any other time in his life. Though not as consistently compelling as Independence Day (too many chickens coming home to roost), this reaffirms that Frank Bascombe is for Ford what Rabbit Angstrom is for Updike. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Amanda Urban/International Creative Management (ICM)
“Ford once again shows why he deserves to be hailed as one of the great American fiction novelists of his generation.” —The Washington Post Book World“By now, we have gotten to know Frank Bascombe well enough to take his measure, and to appreciate that, like almost no one else in our recent literature, he is life-size.” —The New York Times Book Review"The Lay of the Land . . . is distinct not only for its singular style but also because of its generosity. Ford shows that life is never easy and never placid. . . . Yet we keep moving forward for that occasional moment of pure understanding." —Chicago Sun-Times