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Independence Day [Paperback]

Richard Ford
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)

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Product Description

From Amazon

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.

From Booklist

That the best-laid plans of mice and men soon go awry is a generalization made concrete in Ford's latest novel, which picks up the story of Frank Bascombe where it left off in a previous novel, The Sportswriter (1986). The time is now the late 1980s, and Frank, divorced, is no longer sportswriting but selling real estate. Within the time span of preparing and participating in a Fourth of July weekend, Frank tells us in excruciating detail about the Sisyphean boulders he has been forced to push uphill throughout his life: career, kids, ex-wife, current girlfriend, and the unpleasant people occupying his rental property. Frank's plan is to take his teenage son on the road over the Fourth to visit sports halls of fame, but, more significantly, to try to get the troubled youth somewhat straightened out. Fate intervenes in the form of an accident to his son's eye; the boy, as it turns out, will recover, but this is hardly the outing Frank had planned. But, then, as pessimistic Frank says at an earlier point in the book, "In two hours I have been suspected of being a priest, a shithead, and, now, a homo. I am apparently not getting my message across." Are any of us, for that matter? Ford has a large following, so this less-than-satisfying sequel is likely to generate demand Brad Hooper --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"An extraordinary epic.... nothing less than the story of the twentieth century itself." — The Times

"Frank Bascombe has earned a place beside Willy Loman and Harry Angstrom in our literary landscape...with a wry wit and a fin de siècle wisdom that is very much his own." — The New York Times Book Review

"Each flash of magical dialogue, every rumination a wild surprise.... Independence Day is a confirmation of a talent as strong and varied as American fiction has to offer." — The New York Review of Books

"A Babe Ruth of novelists.... One of the finest curators of the great American living museum." — Washington Post Book World

"One of his generation's most eloquent voices." — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times


From the Trade Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

"An extraordinary epic.... nothing less than the story of the twentieth century itself." — The Times

"Frank Bascombe has earned a place beside Willy Loman and Harry Angstrom in our literary landscape...with a wry wit and a fin de siècle wisdom that is very much his own." — The New York Times Book Review

"Each flash of magical dialogue, every rumination a wild surprise.... Independence Day is a confirmation of a talent as strong and varied as American fiction has to offer." — The New York Review of Books

"A Babe Ruth of novelists.... One of the finest curators of the great American living museum." — Washington Post Book World

"One of his generation's most eloquent voices." — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Richard Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1944. He has published five novels and two previous collections of stories. Independence Day was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and, two weeks later, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the first time the same book had won both prizes. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

In Haddam, summer floats over tree-softened streets like a sweet lotion balm from a careless, languorous god, and the world falls in tune with its own mysterious anthems. Shaded lawns lie still and damp in the early a.m. Outside, on peaceful-morning Cleveland Street, I hear the footfalls of a lone jogger, tramping past and down the hill toward Taft Lane and across to the Choir College, there to run in the damp grass. In the Negro trace, men sit on stoops, pants legs rolled above their sock tops, sipping coffee in the growing, easeful heat. The marriage enrichment class (4 to 6) has let out at the high school, its members sleepy-eyed and dazed, bound for bed again. While on the green gridiron pallet our varsity band begins its two-a-day drills, revving up for the 4th: "Boom-Haddam, boom-Haddam, boom-boom-ba-boom. Haddam-Haddam, up'n-at-'em! Boom-boom-ba-boom!"

Elsewhere up the seaboard the sky, I know, reads hazy. The heat closes in, a metal smell clocks through the nostrils. Already the first clouds of a summer T-storm lurk on the mountain horizons, and it's hotter where they live than where we live. Far out on the main line the breeze is right to hear the Amtrak, "The Merchants' special," hurtle past for Philly. And along on the same breeze, a sea-salt smell floats in from miles and miles away, mingling with shadowy rhododendron aromas and the last of the summer's staunch azaleas.

Though back on my street, the first shaded block of Cleveland, sweet silence reigns. A block away, someone patiently bounces a driveway ball: squeak . . . then breathing . . . then a laugh, a cough . . . "All riiight, that's the waaay." None of it too loud. In front of the Zumbros', two doors down, the streets crew is finishing a quiet smoke before cranking their machines and unsettling the dust again. We're repaving this summer, putting in a new "line," resodding the neutral ground, setting new curbs, using our proud new tax dollars-the workers all Cape Verdeans and wily Hondurans from poorer towns north of here. Sergeantsville and Little York. They sit and stare silently beside their yellow front-loaders, ground flatteners and backhoes, their sleek private cars-Camaros and Chevy low-riders-parked around the corner, away from the dust and where it will be shady later on.

And suddenly the carillon at St. Leo the Great begins: gong, gong, gong, gong, gong, gong, then a sweet, bright admonitory matinal air by old Wesley himself: "Wake the day, ye who would be saved, wake the day, let your souls be laved."

Though all is not exactly kosher here, in spite of a good beginning. (When is anything exactly kosher?)

I myself, Frank Bascombe, was mugged on Coolidge Street, one street over, late in April, spiritedly legging it home from a closing at our realty office just at dusk, a sense of achievement lightening my step, stiff hoping to catch the evening news, a bottle of Roederer-a gift from a grateful seller I'd made a bundle for-under my arm. Three young boys, one of whom I thought I'd seen before-an Asian-yet couldn't later name, came careering ziggy-zaggy down the sidewalk on minibikes, conked me in the head with a giant Pepsi bottle, and rode off howling. Nothing was stolen or broken, though I was knocked silly on the ground, and sat in the grass for ten minutes, unnoticed in a whirling daze.

Later, in early May, the Zumbros' house and one other were burgled twice in the same week (they missed some things the first time and came back to get them).

And then, to all our bewilderment, Clair Devane, our one black agent, a woman I was briefly but intensely "linked with" two years ago, was murdered in May inside a condo she was showing out the Great Woods Road, near Hightstown: roped and tied, raped and stabbed. No good clues left-just a pink while-you-were-out slip lying in the parquet entry, the message in her own looping hand: "Luther family. Just started looking. Mid-90's. 3 p.m. Get key. Dinner with Eddie." Eddie was her fianc?.

Plus, falling property values now ride through the trees like an odorless, colorless mist settling through the still air where all breathe it in, all sense it, though our new amenities-the new police cruisers, the new crosswalks, the trimmed tree branches, the buried electric, the refurbished band shell, the plans for the 4th of July parade-do what they civically can to ease our minds off worrying, convince us our worries aren't worries, or at least not ours alone but everyone's-no one's-and that staying the course, holding the line, riding the cyclical nature of things are what this country's all about, and thinking otherwise is to drive optimism into retreat, to be paranoid and in need of expensive "treatment" out-of-state.

And practically speaking, while bearing in mind that one event rarely causes another in a simple way, it must mean something to a town, to the local esprit, for its values on the open market to fall. (Why else would real estate prices be an index to the national well-being?) If, for instance, some otherwise healthy charcoal briquette firm's stock took a nosedive, the company would react ASAP. Its "people" would stay at their desks an extra hour past dark (unless they were fired outright); men would go home more dog-tired than usual, carrying no flowers, would stand longer in the violet evening hours staring up at the tree limbs in need of trimming, would talk less kindly to their kids, would opt for an extra Pimm's before dinner alone with the wife, then wake oddly at four with nothing much, but nothing good, in mind. Just restless.

And so it is in Haddam, where all around, our summer swoon notwithstanding, there's a new sense of a wild world being just beyond our perimeter, an untallied apprehension among our residents, one I believe they'll never get used to, one they'll die before accommodating.

A sad fact, of course, about adult life is that you see the very things you'll never adapt to coming toward you on the horizon. You see them as the problems they are, you worry like hell about them, you make provisions, take precautions, fashion adjustments; you tell yourself you'll have to change your way of doing things. Only you don't. You can't. Somehow it's already too late. And maybe it's even worse than that: maybe the thing you see coming from far away is not the real thing, the thing that scares you, but its aftermath. And what you've feared will happen has already taken place. This is similar in spirit to the realization that all the great new advances of medical science will have no benefit for us at all, though we cheer them on, hope a vaccine might be ready in time, think things could still get better. Only it's too late there too. And in that very way our life gets over before we know it. We miss it. And like the poet said: "The ways we miss our lives are life."

This morning I am up early, in my upstairs office under the eaves, going over a listing logged in as an "Exclusive" just at closing last night, and for which I may already have willing buyers later today. Listings frequently appear in this unexpected, providential way: An owner belts back a few Manhattans, takes an afternoon trip around the yard to police up bits of paper blown from the neighbors' garbage, rakes the last of the winter's damp, fecund leaves from under the forsythia beneath which lies buried his old Dalmatian, Pepper, makes a close inspection of the hemlocks he and his wife planted as a hedge when they were young marrieds long ago, takes a nostalgic walk back through rooms he's painted, baths grouted far past midnight, along the way has two more stiff ones followed hard by a sudden great welling and suppressed heart's cry for a long-lost life we must all (if we care to go on living) let go of . . . And boom: in two minutes more he's on the phone, interrupting some realtor from a quiet dinner at home, and in ten more minutes the whole deed's done. It's progress of a sort. (By lucky coincidence, my clients the Joe Markhams will have driven down from Vermont this very night, and conceivably I could complete the circuit-listing to sale-in a single day's time. The record, not mine, is four minutes.)

My other duty this early morning involves writing the editorial for our firm's monthly "Buyer vs. Seller" guide (sent free to every breathing freeholder on the Haddam tax rolls). This month I'm fine-tuning my thoughts on the likely real estate fallout from the approaching Democratic Convention, when the uninspirational Governor Dukakis, spirit-genius of the sinister Massachusetts Miracle, will grab the prize, then roll on to victory in November-my personal hope, but a prospect that paralyzes most Haddam property owners with fear, since they're almost all Republicans, love Reagan like Catholics love the Pope, yet also feel dumbfounded and double-crossed by the clownish spectacle of Vice President Bush as their new leader. My arguing tack departs from Emerson's famous line in Self-Reliance, "To be great is to be misunderstood," which I've rigged into a thesis that claims Governor Dukakis has in mind more "pure pocketbook issues" than most voters think; that economic insecurity is a plus for the Democrats; and that interest rates, on the skids all year, will hit 11% by New Year's no matter if William Jennings Bryan is elected President and the silver standard reinstituted. (These sentiments also scare Republicans to death.) "So what the hell," is the essence of my clincher, "things could get worse in a hurry. Now's the time to test the realty waters. Sell! (or Buy)."

In these summery days my own life, at least frontally, is simplicity's model. I live happily if slightly bemusedly in a forty-four-year-old bachelor's way in my former wife's house at 116 Cleveland, in the "Presidents Streets" section of Haddam, New Jersey, where I'm employed as a Realtor Associate by the Lauren-Schwindell firm on Seminary Street. I should say, perhaps, the house formerly owned by formerly my wife, Ann Dykstra, now M...

From AudioFile

Rubinstein was wisely matched to Ford's protagonist, Frank Bascombe, who tells his personal history in a first-person narrative over the course of a Fourth of July weekend. Rubinstein is remarkably adept at relaying emotion, especially humor. His energy and approachability invite you into the story, and his friendly manner keeps you there. The strongest aspect of Rubinstein's narration is a tone that easily differentiates between dialogue and internal commentary. A minus of the production is the abridgment. Though competently shortened, it's a shame to eliminate large sections of finely written prose in a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. R.O.F. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine
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