Be Mine by Richard Ford - review by Simon Baker

Simon Baker

Frank’s Fifth Act

Be Mine

By

Bloomsbury 342pp £18.99
 

The premise of the fifth book in the Frank Bascombe series will not surprise devotees, since it is shared by all its predecessors: a man travels to a certain event (which proves to be disappointing), while continually analysing his state of mind and unpicking the details of his innumerable interactions with others. To put it mildly, you have to be quite good to be able to pull that kind of book off. That Richard Ford has done it five times, collectively building one of the great monuments of modern American fiction on scant narrative foundations, is extraordinary.

Across the books, Frank is quietly haunted by the death, aged nine, of his first son, Ralph. It led to his divorce from Ann, many affairs and a lot of introspection. Yet Frank’s voice is remarkably upbeat, witty and almost endlessly lyrical. In The Sportswriter (1986), Frank was thirty-eight, recently divorced and a writer of competent pieces about baseball and football, having long since abandoned a promising literary career. At roughly ten-year intervals since then, Ford has provided a fresh instalment of Frank’s musings. Independence Day (1995) saw Frank, by then an estate agent, take his slightly odd son Paul to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was followed by The Lay of the Land (2006), in which Frank awaited a family Thanksgiving while enduring prostate cancer. A collection of four long stories, the abysmally titled but glittering Let Me Be Frank with You, followed in 2014. And now we have Be Mine, seemingly the last in the series, although Ford has previously reneged on vows that there will be no further instalments.

In the new book, which is set shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Frank, now seventy-four, has a sorrow on his hands: his middle-aged son Paul is dying of ALS (a type of motor neurone disease). Frank’s first wife died two years earlier and Frank has

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