Let Me be Frank With You by Richard Ford continues the dialogue Frank Bascombe has with himself as he strolls and ambles through life. This four-vignette novel begins with a horrendous story about an Indian war and the devastation of Sandy to a NJ shore town. The common thread is that “I’m Here.” Frank, at 68, wants to remind himself that he is here, relevant maybe, but definitely here.
Not sure why HLM is an appropriate pen name for Frank the author. He reads lots and then reports on these articles in his column. In the part titled “Everything Could Be Worse” he constant refrain after reading some of this stuff is: “WHAT MAKES THAT NEWS?” Visiting old homes I used to live in was fun once upon a time to me, now it’s not. In fact it seems kind of weird now that I think about it. Walking up to the front door of a house in which I used to live with the expectation of being invited in is preposterous today. I wouldn’t let anyone into my house that claims to have previously lived here. How do I know he isn’t casing the joint for a future robbery or just looking for a squat that night or beyond? This is where my mind went when Frank invited a woman, Ms. Pines, a black woman who teaches history in a nearby town. When she lived there in the 50’s her dad was the first black to work at Bell Labs. Her mom was an Italian Opera singer. She hadn’t been in the house since she moved out in 1979 after the tragedy, which is News to Frank. Yes, it could be worse.
“The New Normal” is the title of the third part and hovers around a new community living paradigm not old age homes for sure, but a more specialty or designer kind of home now for the aging but yet infirmed, a new social community, real, not virtual. Frank’s former wife, Ann, mother of their two children is in one of these enclaves for Parkinson’s. “She is brave to have me here, since I record the progress of her ailment like one of the sensors charting her decline from the prime that seemed always to be hers. The world gets smaller and more focused the longer we stay on it.” (p 160) The conversations are more about such things as “to whether suicide is a religious issue or a medical one.” Jacques’ seven ages speech echoes in these pages.
Ann’s study of the death of others is the title of the fourth part. The “Death of Others” begins yesterday, two days before Christmas. A visit to a friend in a hospice, a chat with the oil delivery man bring back memories of his now divorced wife, his dead son of thirty years, whom he thinks of every day precedes the Christmas visit to his son in KC. It’s another Christmas and more knowledge of the past is revealed as he narrows in on his own end of life path.