PATRICK STEPHENSON

Earthbound concerns of an ascendant adult

An Illusion of a Face

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Lately I’ve been engrossed in Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe series. I finished the first, The Sportswriter, a week or so ago while on patrol, and the passage that concluded the meat of the book before the afterword was, to say the least, a gut-puncher as I—girl-snubbed that afternoon—leaned against a shelf and read. I started the second, Independence Day, that night, and over the next few days, managed to read nearly 200 pages before, to my frustration, I lost the book. I can’t find it anywhere now, and I need Frank back!

Anyway, if you don’t want any of The Sportswriter ruined for you, don’t read this. As I said, it’s from near the end.

And there is no nicer time on earth now—everything in the offing, nothing gone wrong, all potential—the very polar opposite of how I felt driving home the other night, when everything was on the skids and nothing within a thousand kilometers worth anticipating. This is really all life is worth, when you come down to it.

The light across the street is off now. Though as I stand watching (my bum knee good as new), waiting for this irresistible, sentimental girl’s return, I can’t be certain that the man I saw there—the heavy man in his vest and tie, surprised by the sudden sound of a voice and his own name, a sound he didn’t expect—I can’t be certain he’s not there still, looking out over the night streets of a friendly town, alone. And I step closer to the glass and try to find him through the dark, stare hard, hoping for even an illusion of a face, of someone there watching me here. Far below I can sense the sound of cars and life in motion. Behind me I hear the door sigh closed again and footsteps coming. And I sense that it’s not possible to see there anymore, though my guess is no one’s watching me. No one’s noticed me standing here at all.

The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford

Beautiful, yes? Only one line of this bothers me: “…when everything was on the skids and nothing within a thousand kilometers worth anticipating.” I suppose “nothing” is taking the “was” of “everything” as its verb, but that sounds awkward, and blights an otherwise flawless closer. Then again, “…when everything was on the skids and nothing within a thousand kilometers was worth anticipating” doesn’t sound as good as possible either. Would “with” work there instead of “and”?

I’m wondering also about the last few lines—if they represent a tonal shift. The tone of the opening lines is explicit. Having, after a few days of misery, wooed this barely legal intern, Frank is awaiting her return from the bathroom. This is a pleasing situation. However, as he waits he searches for the heavyset man, wondering as he looks if anyone is watching him: “…though my guess is no one’s watching me. No one’s noticed me standing here at all.” Why does it matter if anyone’s watching him? Is the moment suddenly meaningless because there aren’t witnesses (except, of course, us readers)? Is this merely exhaustion from a narrator sick of narrating who wants his book to end? We’ve been watching him all along, of course.

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Written by patiomensch

February 6, 2007 at 11:23 pm

Posted in Books, Quotes, Richard Ford

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