I’ve been saving the contents of old floppy disks onto my computer. It’s a long process, and I get distracted by these things I wrote ten to twenty years ago, feeling by turns regret, pride, melancholy, and surprise. Continue reading
Lying in bed half asleep, the radio news from the crash site washing over me, I thought of this passage from Updike’s Rabbit at Rest, a novel soaked in death. Is part of the preoccupation with MH17 the unimaginable horror of dying in the air?
Just as the Lockerbie air disaster is the backdrop to late 1988 in literature, mid-2014 will have MH17, stirring memories in future years of those amateur militia, the fields strewn with luggage, the reporters with their noses covered outside the horror-trains full of bodies in the heat.
As the candy settles in his stomach a sense of doom regrows its claws around his heart: little prongs like those that hold fast a diamond solitaire. There has been a lot of death in the newspapers lately. Before Christmas that Pan Am Flight 103 ripping open like a rotten melon five miles above Scotland and dropping all these bodies and flaming wreckage all over the golf course and the streets of this little town like Glockamorra, what was its real name, Lockerbie. Imagine sitting there in your seat being lulled by the hum of the big Rolls Royce engines and the stewardesses bringing the clinking drinks caddy and the feeling of having caught the plane and nothing to do now but relax and then with a roar and giant ripping noise and shattered screams this whole cosy world dropping away and nothing under you but black space and your chest squeezed by the terrible unbreathable cold, that cold you can scarcely believe is there but that you sometimes actually still feel packed into your suitcases, stored in the unpressurized hold, when you unpack your clothes, the dirty underwear and beach towels with the merciless chill of death from outer space still in them.
– John Updike, Rabbit at Rest 8
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.