Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Lay of the Land

I finished reading Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land about a week and a half ago, and it's good: powerful, satisfying. It's a different book than Independence Day, with the earlier book's scintillating onrush of detail being damped and darkened here, and with violence and volatility ever-present. (The book is set at recount-haunted Thanksgiving 2000, and 9/11 casts a shadow over it from the near future. This is an interesting choice of setting.) The storyline has Frank Bascombe, now in his mid-fifties, fighting prostate cancer, living oceanside in NJ, considering his own mortality, and mulling the "Permanent Period" that's followed the "Existence Period" of his earlier middle age.

Compared with the two earlier books, plot events here tend to be sharper and less likely; I mourn this a bit, since I found that to be a defining characteristic especially of Independence Day. Oddness does play well with poignancy, especially in a couple of episodes (Revolutionary War reenacters crossing in front of a misty suburban funeral procession; the public spectacle of an old hotel being imploded). The scene-setting detail work is still all there.

The narration starts throwing off new sparks, too: that quicksilver, present-tense Bascombe-perspective runs up into losses of emotional control, introducing an unpredictably recurring disconnect into the character's usual firm footing.

The final image in the book is beautiful and immensely satisfying, invested with the same kinetic sense of unending yearning that makes everyone remember Fitzgerald's boats beating against the current. It is good for the trilogy to close well.

As Pete noted a couple of weeks back regarding the new Pynchon book, it's kind of pointless to discuss a book much deeper when no one else has read it, so suffice it to say I recommend it. I think you'll want to have read both The Sportswriter and Independence Day first, since characters from both books are present.


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