Frank Bascombe acolytes stirred last week when Slate reported that Bascombe had unexpectedly returned. Richard Ford in an appearance at New York City's 92nd Street Y delighted his audience with the surprise reading of a new short story about Bascombe, Ford's iconic everyman character whose progress from young manhood to late middle age was shown in three novels.
The excitement bubbled over because Ford had previously said that he would not bring back Bascombe following the last novel "The Lay of the Land," in which Bascombe is a semi-retired realtor beset by prostate cancer. In the new story, Bascombe has aged another decade or so, living in post Hurricane Sandy New Jersey. In the novels, the affluent suburbs of northern New Jersey are transformed into one of literature's mythical places.
Bascombe first appeared 30 years ago in "The Sportswriter," a generation-defining novel for many who came of age in the late 1960s and early '70s. Like the TV show "30 Something," the book reflected the closing of possibilities, the arrival of maturity and its disappointments. Plus, it had for male readers one of American fiction's most intriguing, mythical, generational muses, Bascombe's former wife, identified only as X. Like Gatsby's Daisy, X embodies the golden sexuality and transcendent cool of American femininity. The long awaited second book, "Independence Day" was a letdown, while "The Lay of The Land," while not as epochal as "The Sportswriter," aptly defined the edgy atmosphere of the post Sept. 11 era.
Each book was associated with a holiday: "The Sportswriter," Easter, and "independence Day" and "The Lay of the Land" the American celebrations of the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Ford told radio great Bob Edwards that he would shun linking a fourth Bascombe novel to Christmas because that holiday's symbolic and cultural weight would be too difficult to navigate.
Perhaps Bascombe will live on in short stories or a new novel not connected to Christmas. No matter the form, Ford fans will welcome the return of Bascombe, like John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom a character who defines a generation as it ages and reacts to time and history.