I have just finished reading ‘Lay of the Land’ by Richard Ford, something I have been meaning to read for years. I found it hard going despite the critical praise for Ford, this book, and the central character.
The NY Times says of Bascombe, the ‘hero’ of ‘Lay of the Land’:
‘Sunk deep in the effluvia of day to-day routines, he broods over the big, existential questions of the human condition, seeking “to maintain a supportable existence that resembles actual life” while trying to manage his expectations and his dreams.’
What that means is he rambles to himself about the state of the world, his changed and
changing place in it, and his health. As someone about the same age as Bascombe is in this book, I guess it should speak to me. Except I do that myself already, and frankly in a much more relevant and cogent manner than Bascombe does. He is probably more relevant to an American audience as it is the minutiae of social change as evinced by real estate mores and morals and development in small town USA that occupies most of his time. I am less certain whether he is more cogent for an American audience than he is for (this, at any rate) British one.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. I did, once I stopped expecting anything to happen. I confess this is the last of the Frank Bascombe works published to date and yet it is the first one I have read. So I know I shouldn’t have really started here if I wanted to get a proper feel for Bascombe. Had I begun at the beginning I would perhaps not have had irrational expectations. This is not an action story; it is a novel of reflection and some quite angry, though understated dissatisfaction with the way the world has gone, both in general and in personal terms. And yet, and yet…
Without giving the game away, the book suddenly resolves many of the long-winded- discussed-at length-and-in-small-recurring-incoherent-ways-which-accurately-reflect-perhaps-how-reality-works-and-yet-is-even-more-irritating-in-fiction-than-in-life, problems, in a couple of odd deus ex machina ways which break in from other genres. [The multiple word, connected by dashes, concept is one of Ford’s slightly odd stylistic habits]. I won’t say what the sudden plot twists/resolutions are but I will say that one appeared highly unlikely, generally irrelevant and a bleed over from high paranoia action movies. The other was a sort of 19th century rounding off of a difficult situation whereby everything is resolved in a ‘Reader, I married him!’ manner, without the sense of control and action that ending implies. Indeed Bascombe’s fortune is that doing nothing him brings him a lot of what he wants. Most unsatisfying.
It may be that this eastern, Buddhist acceptance, although there is a Buddhist who doesn’t get what he wants and Bascombe who at least claims not to be a Bugghist and does, is what the book is actually about, but frankly I don’t want to wade through another 500 pages to discover something I could have worked out in half the time and without the floopy ending. It would probably merit a re-reading but I don’t think I can face the length of it again. To be fair neither can Ford who has in a recent interview eschewed the idea of turning out another 500 page tome at his age.