I am almost ashamed to admit that I liked this book. If there’s anything that a good non-realist writer ought to stand for, it’s the goddamned fact that there are way too many stories about writers (in this case, a sportswriter) who are on the early side of middle age and who haven’t really managed to figure out what, if anything, matters to them. But I can’t do that. I just can’t. I have to cede this ground to the enemy, because this book is awesome.
The secret is in the voice. You’d expect this book to be cynical and pain-filled. But it’s not. It’s dominated by this tone of slow startlement that captivated me from the very first page, which begins:
My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
For the past fourteen years I have lived here at 19 Hoving Road, Haddam, New Jersey, in a large Tudor house bought when a book of short stories I wrote sold to a movie producer for a lot of money, and seemed to set my wife and me and our three children—two of whom were not even born yet—up for a good life.
Just exactly what that good life was—the one I expected—I cannot tell you now exactly, though I wouldn’t say it has not come to pass, only that much has come in between. I am no longer married to X, for instance. The child we had when everything was starting has died, though there are two others, as I mentioned, who are alive and wonderful children.
Now how could anyone not be willing to give that a chance? The book is nothing more or less than what is promised by these paragraphs. It is one weekend in the life of Frank Bascombe. He goes on a trip with his girlfriend, comes back, meets her family, talks to his wife, talks to his children, talks to some friends, and then it’s over. Oh, some other stuff happens too, but it’s fundamentally a pretty slow, dreamy affair. And one that is very easy to read. Nothing gets between you and this novel. It has transparent prose; not the kind of transparent prose that is so dull that you don’t notice it, but the kind that is so captivating that you forget you’re reading a book.