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Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Independence Day

Independence Day by Richard Ford

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:

October 18, 2002

Independence Day is the story of a long (oh, so very, very long) Fourth of July weekend for middle-aged real estate agent Frank Bascombe. Over the weekend he maybe makes some slight changes, turning his life in a new direction (possibly).

I'm not a middle-aged guy, but I've had some revelations in my own young life, so I get what Ford is saying. Frank is mired in the "Existence Period" where he pretty much just tries not to let things bother him, just keep everything even keel. On this holiday weekend, Frank and his son Paul, who's been getting in trouble for shoplifting, vandalism, so on, are going to the Basketball and Baseball Halls of Fame. At first glance, I thought the book would revolve around the travels of father and son, but this is not the case. Instead, for a good two hundred pages or so we readers are mired in the dull life of Frank Bascombe as he tries to sell a house to middle-aged former hippies who have yet to discover the comfortably numb bliss of the Existence Period. And there's Frank checking out his hot dog and root beer stand outside town, trying to collect rent from his deadbeat tenants, and having overly philosophical talks with his girlfriend, whom Frank really can't commit to because it would upset the delicate balance in his mundane life.

When the father and son jamboree finally does get underway, I almost wished it hadn't, because Paul is a very weird kid. He reminded me of a couple cousins of mine, which is not a good thing. After Frank tries to bond with his son at the Basketball Hall of Fame and on the way to Cooperstown (without lots of success) Paul is mercifully hit in the eye when he stands directly in the path of a batting cage pitching machine and has to go to the hospital. Inexplicably, Frank's half-brother takes him to the hospital why Paul is choppered there. The half-brother appears from nowhere and his sudden appearance seemed a little too convenient for me.

Anyway, after Paul's injury, Frank begins to realize that maybe he should try to get out of the Existence Period and commit to his girlfriend, have a better relationship with his ex-wife and kids, so on. The book grinds to a halt before it's really clear what exactly Frank is going to do, which left me wondering, "I read all this way for what?" A book so long and plodding, I wanted some kind of conclusion, something to make me feel it was worthwhile, and I don't think I got that.

My biggest complaint is that some of the characters didn't seem real to me. Paul (and his sister) are so weird, the girlfriend is too cerebral, and the ex-wife was flat. Maybe I just don't know enough people...

However, this is a fairly good book. The story, as slow as it is, is engrossing and the writing is almost top-notch. I'd recommend giving it a look, especially if you're a middle-aged man in an Existence Period of your own.

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