Richard Ford was friends with Raymond Carver. Figures. The Sportswriter seemed to me like the novel Carver would have written if he ever wanted to. (Presumably, he thought short stories were much more important.) The genre’s usually called dirty realism, but that doesn’t sound right to me, because these writers are both so eloquent, even when they’re writing about the grit of everyday life. Dirty realism sounds like it should describe the sort of boring squalid lives of the characters of Andrew McGahan’s Praise.
Both writers have a poetic way with everyday American life, with the small hopes and comforts of ordinary Americans. Carver’s characters were more working-class/trailer trash types, though, while Frank Barscombe, the narrator of The Sportswriter, is an educated journalist who mentions James Joyce and Ezra Pound.
A grown-up Holden Caulfield on antidepressants?
I hope not, but that’s sort of how Frank Barscombe sounds. As a great American character, he falls somewhere between the eloquence of Holden and the ordinariness of Rabbit Angstrom.
Like Holden Caulfield, he handles a crisis by ringing up various ex-girlfriends / his ex-wife and catching a train into New York.
Women in Frank’s Life
It is not till the end when he says it explicitly that I realised what he really wants more than anything – reconciliation with his ex-wife, known befittingly as ‘X’. It is an accomplishment that it made me so sad it didn’t happen.
It’s almost as sad watching things fall apart with his girlfriend Vicky. There’s never an argument, only her moving further and further away from him over the course of weekend. The reasons are opaque to me, and probably to Frank as well. They don’t have enough in common? The phony way he spoke to her father? The fact he got caught going through her handbag?
Hitting home: Frank as abandoned writer
What moved me most – or scared me, maybe – was the fact that at 26 (my age now) Frank abandoned his writing career after a successful first book. He got to the point where he couldn’t write; he would sit down to write, but do nothing. Here he is in the novel, thirteen years later, a successful sports journalist with such small ambitions, living under a spell of dreaminess – which seems remarkably similar to life on antidepressants.
Perhaps I should take comfort in the fact that Ford himself seems to have abandoned writing for a while – after two well reviewed early books – only to come back with the gigantic success of The Sportswriter.