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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
"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.
There are moments of great pathos -- mainly around failed relationships, such as those with his ex-wife, his children as well as several ex-lovers -- but also moments of great humour. In the latter category are scenes around his attempt to sell a house to a couple who don't understand they are not so much buying a house as shopping for a means to salvage a failing relationship. And scenes around Bascombe's relationship as a white (but oh so very liberal!) landlord and real estate agent with one of his black tenants, it takes some skill to portray America's race relations as slapstick humour.
For those reviewers disappointed and bored by the novel, I would say that if you are looking for plot this is not your book, go back to a mystery novel (said in friendship and empathy!). On the other hand, particularly those who came of age in the '60's will find this a very revealing (but not didactic) insight into the evolution of the American culture, the increasing political polarization, the breakdown of the family, the difficulty of love relationships in an age of fundamentally changed gender relations, the flight of the middle class from the inner city, the tarnish on the American Dream,
Most recent customer reviews
A deeply satisfying journey through the inner world of a middle-aged, middle class American. The protagonist is now marking time, working as a real estate agent, failing as a... Read morePublished 11 months ago by john smith
A coherent and utterly believable philosophical long weekend expressed so creatively and so eloquently by an astounding writer. Read morePublished 15 months ago by highparkdave
Day to day life and times of one of us. Very well written as usual and full to the brim with layer upon layer of human nature.Published 19 months ago by DR
OK. It got a Pulitzer Prize so it had to have some redeeming features. It did. The writing was excellent in most places. Read morePublished on Sept. 28 2012 by Ronald E. Dines
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 morePublished on June 6 2002 by Jack Williams
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 morePublished on May 14 2002 by C. Baker
In some respects, "Independence Day" is the best book I've ever read. Richard Ford is simply brilliant at capturing the uncapturable. Read morePublished on March 4 2002 by C. Fletcher
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
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 morePublished on Dec 27 2001 by Joyann Sanz-agero