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Independence Day [Paperback]

Richard Ford
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 4 1996
After the disintegration of his family, the ruin of his career and an affair with a much younger woman, Frank Bascombe decides that the surest route to a normal American life is to become an estate agent in Haddam, New Jersey. Frank blunders through the suburban citadels of the Eastern Seaboard and avoids engaging in life until the sudden, cataclysmic events of a Fourth of July weekend with his son jolt him back.

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A visionary account of American life--and the long-awaited sequel to one of the most celebrated novels of the past decade--Independence Day reveals a man and our country with unflinching comedy and the specter of hope and even permanence, all of which Richard Ford evokes with keen intelligence, perfect emotional pitch, and a voice invested with absolute authority.

From Publishers Weekly

Ford is the author now of five novels and a book of short stories, but he is probably best known for The Sportswriter (1988), widely praised as a realistic, compassionate and humorous view of American life as seen through the eyes of a highly intelligent and deeply involved observer. The man was Frank Bascombe of Haddan, N.J., and for those who came to see him as a new kind of American fiction icon, the good news is that he's back. Independence Day is an often poetic, sometimes searing, sometimes hilarious account of a few days around the Fourth of July in Bascombe's new life. Divorced, working with genuine enthusiasm and insight as a real estate salesman (not even John Updike has penetrated the working, commercial life of a contemporary American with such skill and empathy), embarked on a tentative new relationship with Sally, who lives by the sea, narrator Frank struggles through the long weekend with a mixture of courage, self-knowledge and utter foolishness that makes him a kind of 1980s Everyman. He desperately tries to find a new home for some brilliantly observed losers from Vermont, has some resentful exchanges with his former wife, takes a difficult teenage son on what might have been an idyllic pilgrimage to two sports Halls of Fame, bobs and weaves uneasily around Sally and, as the Fourth arrives, achieves a sort of low-key epiphany. This is a long, closely woven novel that, like life itself, is short on drama but dense with almost unconscious observations of the passing scene and reflections on fragmentary human encounters. In fact, if it were possible to write a Great American Novel of this time in our lives, this is what it would look like. Ford achieves astonishing effects on almost every page: atmospheric moments that recall James Agee, a sense of community as strong as those of the great Victorians and an almost Thurberesque grasp of the inanities and silent cruelties between people who are close. Even as a travel writer, evoking journeys through summertime Connecticut and New York, Ford makes his work glow. Perhaps the book's only fault is a technical one: that so many key conversations have to be carried out, in rather improbable length and complexity, on the phone. But it's difficult to imagine a better American novel appearing this year. First printing 50,000; simultaneous Random House Audio; author tour.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant internal monologue May 21 2002
I agree with the reviewer (...) who raved about Richard Poe's brilliant reading of an unabridged, audio version of this book. Having read many of the divergent opinions listed here by Amazon readers, and remembering some of my own struggles to read authors like Tim Parks (whose narrators internalize much of the story and who digress often), it occurs to me that perhaps this story is better enjoyed on tape. I couldn't wait to get in my car every day and listen to Poe's witty, heart-felt rendition of Ford's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
Independence Day is essentially an internal monologue, set on the long July 4th weekend of 1988. It is a sequel to Ford's earlier novel The Sportswriter, which I have yet to read, but I never got the impression I was missing anything due to lack of familiarity with the earlier novel. The protagonist is Frank Bascombe, a divorced, well-educated former sportswriter who now makes his living selling real estate in the affluent New Jersey town of Haddam, while supplementing his earnings with a couple of rental properties he owns in the town's African American neighborhood.
Bascombe is at something of a mid-life crisis. We learn that he has lost a son, and while he has been divorced from his wife for years, he still has feelings for her and secretly hopes for a reconciliation. At the same time, he is seen carrying on a half-hearted affair with a presumed widow whose husband left years earlier and never came back. Bascombe has planned to spend the long weekend with his troubled teenage son Paul, who is apparently battling some sort of mental illness or depression; for some unknown reason Bascombe decides to pick up his son in Connecticut, and drive to the basketball and baseball halls of fame in Springfield, Mass. and Cooperstown, N.Y.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars there may be nothing to control April 29 2000
The most impressive page of this Pulitzer-winning novel would be numbered "-2". It is where the author thanks two foundations for paying him to stay home and write it. A great gift for your engineer friends, they'll think Richard Ford novelized the science fiction movie Independence Day. Actually the book is about a long uneventful weekend in the life of Frank Bascombe, a divorced real estate salesman in Haddam, New Jersey. Don't read it for the plot!
"Unmarried men in their forties, if we don't subside entirely into the landscape, often lose important credibility and can even attract unwholesome attention in a small, conservative community. And in Haddam, in my new circumstances, I felt I was perhaps becoming the personage I least wanted to be and, in the years since my divorce, had feared being: the suspicious bachelor, the man whose life has no mystery, the graying, slightly jowly, slightly too tanned and trim middle-ager, driving around town in a cheesy '58 Chevy ragtop polished to a squeak, always alone on balmy summer nights, wearing a faded yellow polo shirt and green suntans, elbow over the window top, listening to progressive jazz, while smiling and pretending to have everything under control, when in fact there was nothing to control."
I think that with those two sentences, Ford managed to say what his book was about. So I'll shut up.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've ever read March 4 2002
In some respects, "Independence Day" is the best book I've ever read. Richard Ford is simply brilliant at capturing the uncapturable.
He is definitely the most skilled writer I've ever read when it comes to translating onto the page just what goes on in the human mind and heart as they struggle to cope with pain, loss, disappointment, and ultimately regeneration.
"Independence Day" is an interior monologue chronicling three days in the life of Frank Bascombe, former sportswriter turned realty agent, who is attempting to make some sort of real connection with his estranged teenage son. At the same time, Frank is struggling to be reborn from a self-imposed but seemingly inevitable cocoon of mid-life, post-divorce complacency, which he has termed "the existence period".
Ford's perception and empathy are his greatest tools as a writer. There are brilliantly beautiful moments of emotional honesty in this book that resonate like the searing afterimage of sunlight glimpsed on a stretch of side-of-the-road evening rail.
I cannot say enough good things about Richard Ford. I am in awe of him and would like to thank him for his wonderful contributions to my reading life. I highly recommend him to anyone who cares deeply about character and getting at what it means to be human. Ford once wrote, "If loneliness is the disease, the story is the cure." Nothing could be more true of this wonderful book.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A struggle to read! July 23 2000
I have no doubt that Richard Ford is a writer of talent, indeed the skill of the storyteller emerges at intervals throughout this novel, but that was not enough to either engage me as a reader or ultimately to convince me to like the book, it's characters or it's plot. Independence Day won the 1995 Pultizer Prize for fiction and although most of the reviews listed on Amazon would suggest that the award is justified, I do struggle to agree with that analysis.
The plot, although I would contest that definition, is contained within three days of the life of Frank Bascombe, a forty something, divorced real estate agent as he attempts to take his son on a holiday. To fill in some of the spaces Ford gives us a great many philosophical ramblings. Herein lies my problem with Independence Day. I have no objection to philosophy, indeed I was confused by it on a regular basis while at University. However, my main motivation for reading a novel, any novel is to be entertained. That can be through sheer enjoyment, through struggling with the challenge of the ideas (including philosophical ideas) through humour, through frustration and anger and so on. Independence Day provided no trigger at all to stimulate an emotion on any level barring that of boredom.
Consequently the book for me, and I'm aware that here I am in the minority, is contrived, repetitive, at times shallow with the pretence of a deep and meaningful statement. I was unable to invest in any of the characters and thus did not care what happened to them during the course of the novel.
Ford has the reputation of a good writer but I feel with this novel he goes to great lengths to convince us that he deserves that title.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars For those reviewers disappointed and bored by the novel
Frank Bascombe appeared to me to be an American style Everyman, a metaphor for the United States at this time in its history. Read more
Published 15 days ago by westcoast
2.0 out of 5 stars Independence Day
OK. It got a Pulitzer Prize so it had to have some redeeming features. It did. The writing was excellent in most places. Read more
Published 24 months ago by Ronald E. Dines
2.0 out of 5 stars Write more stories please, Mr. Ford
This book is entirely too long, too boring, too plagued by a main character so paralyzed by introspection he can't narrate a sentence or two without a parenthetical aside (and I'm... Read more
Published on June 6 2002 by Jack Williams
2.0 out of 5 stars Meandering, boring
Maybe it's because I'm not 40 something, divorced, on a second career, with two estranged kids but I just didn't get much out of this book. Read more
Published on May 14 2002 by C. Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it
I'm writing this to summarize what the other reviewers have said:
If you believe that a great plot makes a great book and want to "like" your protagonist, stick to... Read more
Published on Feb. 8 2002
1.0 out of 5 stars Richard Ford Has Friends in High Places!
This was a Pulitzer Prize winner? It only goes to show you that in the world of books as in other fields it's not whether one is able to write, but who one knows in the world of... Read more
Published on Dec 27 2001 by Joyann Sanz-agero
5.0 out of 5 stars A suburban classic
For those of you who have read Rand Johnson's wonderful Arcadia Falls, this equally entertaining book offers an interesting parallel. Read more
Published on Nov. 15 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars My fifth "reading"...eek
I am on my fifth "reading" of Independence Day. To clarify:
I keep getting the Recorded Books, Inc. Read more
Published on Sept. 25 2001 by martha woodworth
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring.
Yes, Richard Ford can construct a nice sentence and he has a fine command of the English language. However, if this book is an example of his story-telling abilities, he's missing... Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2001
As an author with my first novel in initial release, I found myself influenced enough by Richard Ford's INDEPENDENCE DAY to set my first book to open on the Fourth of July. Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2001 by Kent Braithwaite
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