Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Lay of the Land

Richard Ford
The Lay of the Land

Vintage, 2007

Richard Ford's novel is plotless, and the same is so full of events. The action of the book fits in three days of the life of the protagonist Frank Baskombe, but in those three days Frank manages to tell almost the whole story of his life. «The Lay of the Land» is 500-page monologue, 500 pages of mind of Frank. How one day in the life of man can be ordinary, so ordinary Ford makes it, but adding a few unusual episodes. Everyday life could ruin any book, but just not this one. It would seem that in any book there are moments that you simply browse through, there are lines that you miss, but in «The Lay of the Land» it is impossible to miss a word. This novel is like a song, really, words can’t be erased from here.

The novel takes place in autumn of 2000, Thanksgiving is nearing. Clinton left the White House, the whole world is in anticipation of the Millennium. The life of 55-year-old Frank Baskombe, the owner of real estate agency, is stuck, as he calls it, he is in "the Permanent Period". Ann, Frank's first wife, left him after the death of their son, Ralph, and then Frank married Sally Caldwell and moved to the town Sea-Clift that on the Jersey Shore. But after eight years of marriage, Sally is also moving away from our protagonist. Sally's first husband, Wally, once wandered away from home a few days after the wedding and went missing. He was not found nor alive nor dead, and Sally has long ceased to look for him, but one day Wally’d returned, after, it turned out, life in Scotland, and Sally once again reunited with Wally, leaving Frank.

Frank has two children, 27-year-old Paul, once a problem child who grew up in an eternal rebel and debater, and works in Kansas City as a "writer" of business cards, and 25-year-old Clarissa, bisexual, who is adoring father. Frank is waiting them both on Thanksgiving Day, as well as his first wife, Ann, though later he has regretted that he had called her.

Frank is also in limbo because of his health. He has prostate cancer, and he is being treated with radioactive substances.

From the first pages of the novel we see how Baskombe rides along the coast, carrying out his daily routine affairs. During the three days of life of Frank you’d know about it as much as if you had known him all his life. It seems like you ride with him in the passenger seat, listening to his monologue for three days. Baskombe, despite his position in society, despite his not too successful life, is hardly a type, he does not look like an ordinary Joe, he is a full-fledged character. He is witty, intelligent, kind, closed, decent, tolerant, but by the end of the third day you are not sure that Frank is such a good man, he is beginning to annoy you. He is perhaps too confident in his right, sometimes too cold.

Despite “the americanost” of the novel, the book is absolutely painless passed on to the rails of another country. This is not a universal story, but the universal language, the universality of the Ford’s gife, his hyper-detailed vision of the world. Ford makes a world of his novels not three-dimensional, but even four-dimensional.

The writer, who writes so smoothly and so multifaceted, must create such outstanding books as «The Lay of the Land».

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