Sunday, March 29, 2009

Chance is a fine thing
Did Richard Ford set out to create an 'everyman' in his narrator Frank Bascombe? Far from it, the author says - he's always wanted his characters to be individuals, and how a novel turns out is always surprising
Richard Ford writing in The Guardian, Saturday 28 March 2009

"The blue Bic pen glides along the page and surprising things always spill out of it" ... The novelist Richard Ford. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Over the last 20 years, goodwill-led readers have occasionally asked me if Frank Bascombe - the yearning, sometimes vexatious narrator of my three novels The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land - was intended to be an American "everyman". By this I think these readers mean: is Frank at least partly an emblem? Poised there in the final clattering quadrant of the last century, beset with dilemmas and joys, equipped with his suburban New Jersey skill-set and ethical outlook - do Frank's fears, dedications, devillings and amusements stand somewhat for our own?

The Bascombe Novels :
(The Sportswriter, Independence Day, The Lay of the Land)
by Richard Ford
Random House

Naturally, I'm flattered to hear such a question, since it might mean the questioner has read at least one of these books and tried to make use of it. And I can certainly imagine that a millennial standard-bearer might be worth having; a sort of generalisable, meditative, desk-top embodiment of our otherwise unapplauded selves - one who's not so accurately drawn as to cause discomfort, but still recognisable enough to make us feel a bit more visible to ourselves and possibly re-certify us as persuasive characters in our own daily dramas.

But the truth is that Frank Bascombe as "everyman" was never my intention. Not only would I have no idea how to go about writing such a full-service literary incarnation, I'm also sure I'd find the whole business to be not much fun in the doing. And I still want to enjoy what I'm doing.

In nearly 40 years of writing stories of varying lengths and shapes and, in the process, making up quite a large number of characters, I've always tried to abide by EM Forster's famous dictum from Aspects of the Novel that says fictional characters should possess "the incalculability of life". To me, this means that characters in novels (the ones we read and the ones we write) should be as variegated and vivid of detail and as hard to predict and make generalisations about as the people we actually meet every day.

Read the rest of Richard Ford's piece online.

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