Death, Not Yours
A few years ago, I picked up a copy of "The Sportswriter" by Richard Ford and before I read it, I ordered a copy of his Pulitzer Prize winning "Independence Day." Once I got into "The Sportswriter," though, I realized it did not interest me at all. The ramblings of a middle-aged man stumbling through his mid-life crisis seemed to have been done better by John Updike's Rabbit books. The prose was good, the journey... bleh (to me at the time). With more attractive suitors on my TBR list I never did get around to "Independence Day."
Recently an advance copy of Mr. Ford's new book, "Be Mine," was available and I thought I would give it a shot. I felt I must have missed something, had the wrong attitude. At the same time, I had an extra Audible credit available, and I thought maybe a different format might be the thing to align me with his pacing.
The central character running throughout this series is Frank Bascombe, now 74 and focused on mortality and the puzzle of life. His son, Paul, is 47 and has been diagnosed with ALS, the "Lou Gehrig" disease for which there is still no cure. It is one thing to be playing out your days trying to come to grips with life's eventual fade, it is quite a bit more challenging to be the one guiding your son to his finale.
Frank drives Paul out to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he will be analyzed and studied, not cured. Paul's condition is rapidly deteriorating, and Frank finds himself in the role of caretaker, assisting his son increasingly more often in performing his basic functions. The two men are constantly sparring with one another, with a sarcasm and gallows humor both witty and morbid.
A trip is planned-- rent a dilapidated RV and make the trek up to the glorious Mount Rushmore with the goal of helping the guys bond while shaking off a painfully claustrophobic walk of death. Father and son look to break down some of the walls neglect has fostered over the years. The question looms... why this destination? What huge significance can a commercial tourist trap like Mount Rushmore be in the comprehension of a life?
Earlier in the novel, Frank details a relationship he has with Betty, a Vietnamese American massage therapist who he considers marrying and who may or may not seriously consider him as anything more than a reliable client. This may have some point in a five-novel portrait of Frank Bascombe, but in a stand-alone story it really serves little purpose.
Advancing age brings with it the examination of what life is all about. Frank had his own concerns, but they are framed much differently when it is his son's story he is defining. Death has become the undeniable reality and its progress is being measured by Paul's decline, something Frank cannot ignore.
So, yes... this can be seen as a depressing subject and there is very little in the way of plot movement. I have to endorse the Audible edition by Harper Audio, which I used alternating with the kindle download. Richard Ford's prose is always witty and clever, but the audible helped to keep things moving. While this was not an easy journey, the questions posed made it a rewarding one.
I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.