Frank Bascombe Returns in Richard Ford’s ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’

Lee Polevoi


Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book

By Richard Ford


256 pages


Frank Bascombe, the former novelist turned sportswriter turned real estate agent, stages a comeback of sorts in Let Me Be Frank with You, Richard Ford’s newest entry to the Bascombe saga. These linked novellas form a long-awaited coda to three novels describing in detail (and detail is the word for it) the life and times of Ford’s keenly perceptive narrator of our life and times. In the conversational and highly digressive voice that’s become so familiar to readers over the years, Frank—aged 68, now comfortably retired and living in upscale Haddam, New Jersey—takes each day as it comes, and still finds plenty to remark upon.


On the damage wrought on the Jersey shoreline by Hurricane Sandy:


“There’s something to be said for a good no-nonsense hurricane, to bully life back into perspective.”


On protests against commercial and residential development:


“People wring their hands and cry bloody murder when a garish new structure rises and casts its ugly shadow; or when a parking lot behind the Pathway paves over the sacred midden of the lost Lenape or a wetland where herons nested and ducks stopped to rest. As if these evils last forever. They don’t. All may not be vanity (though plenty is); but nothing’s here to stay.”


Each of the four novellas centers on encounters Frank has in the days leading up to Christmas, 2012. In “Everything Could Be Worse,” he comes home to find a middle-aged black woman standing at his door. She tells him she once lived in his house and, during a comically uncomfortable tour of the place, shares a shocking revelation about an incident that occurred there many years before.


In “The New Normal,” Frank’s ex-wife Ann lives in a “high-end old folks’ home,” coping with the effects of Parkinson’s disease. His mission is to deliver an orthopedic pillow, but good intentions clash with the ambivalence provoked simply by being in her presence. Ann has his number and Frank knows it.


In “Deaths of Others,” the final novella, an acquaintance from years’ past invites Frank to visit him at his deathbed. It’s not something Frank wishes to do, but he does so anyway, and the experience is both unsettling and revelatory in a minor key. Virtually all of Frank’s impressions and experiences are revelatory in a minor key. And there’s nothing wrong with that.



“I’m Here” is the strongest and most satisfying novella in the book. Arnie Urquhart, a rich guy man who impulsively bought Frank’s oceanfront house several years ago, demands that Frank meet him to inspect the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy. As he nears his destination, knowing full well that his former house has been completely destroyed by the storm, Frank is justifiably concerned about Arnie’s frame of mind and whether some form of irrational physical violence might be imminent. There’s genuine suspense as we await the rendezvous, and the surprising climax feels perfectly calibrated and well-earned.


Not a lot happens in Let Me Be Frank With You, but the reader gets swept up anyway in Frank Bascombe’s thoughtful, cantankerous worldview. Modern life is slipping away from him—has, in fact, been doing so for some time—but he’ll not be denied the opportunity to make himself heard, even if, when all is said and done, it’s more of a whimper than a bang.


Contemplating the deaths of others (and, by inference, his own), Frank feels compelled to discard one item of conventional wisdom after another. Accepted ideas are no longer taken for granted, including the notion that character determines who we are and what we do:


 “Character, to me, is one more lie of history and the dramatic arts. In my view, we have only what we did yesterday, what we do today, and what we might still do. Plus, whatever we think about all of that. But nothing else—nothing hard or kernel-like. I’ve never seen evidence of anything resembling it. In fact I’ve seen the opposite: life as teeming and befuddling, followed by the end.”


Who knows? Frank just might be right. 


Author Bio:


Lee Polevoi, Highbrow Magazine’s chief book critic, is the author of The Moon in Deep Winter, a novel.

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