William Leith

New trials for Frank Bascombe: Be Mine, by Richard Ford, reviewed

The hero of many of Ford’s novels, Frank, now 74, is still trying to bond with his son Paul, who has been diagnosed with an incurable neurodegenerative condition

Richard Ford. [Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images]

Frank Bascombe, the narrator of Be Mine and several other novels by Richard Ford, is, as always, living a horribly tragic life. In previous books, his son dies, his wife leaves him, he can’t find love, he gets cancer and has radioactive devices implanted in his prostate. He fails as a writer, but finds success as an estate agent. There’s something vital and winning about the way he describes all this. He’s a great philosopher: he tries to accept the world as it is, and just grind on towards the grave. Now he’s 74.

In a previous novel, Independence Day, he is 43, recently divorced and trying to bond with his surviving son, Paul. But everything goes wrong. Paul has a bad head injury, and Frank finds himself in a hospital, calling his ex-wife with the news. You wonder how much worse Frank’s life can get. Well, 32 years later, he is still trying to bond with Paul, who now has ALS, an incurable neurodegenerative condition. Aged 47, he is close to death and can’t move freely. Frank plans to take him to the Mayo Clinic, and afterwards to drive him to Mount Rushmore. This all happens around Valentine’s Day.

Frank is still, only just, in the real estate business. He’s well off. He’s always got money, although money doesn’t do anything for him. He still can’t find love. He wonders obsessively whether or not he’s still in love with Catherine, someone he knew many years ago. But then again maybe he’s in love with Betty Tran, an Asian-American masseuse, who might or might not be a sex worker (he hopes and thinks not). He has excruciating, cringe-making phone conversations with these people. One of his problems is that he tries to imagine that women are in love with him, but can’t bear to engage with them.

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