Washington Post reviewer considers Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe alongside Updike’s Harry Angstrom

The Washington Post has a paywall, but if you’re a subscriber you might want to read John Williams’ thoughtful extended review of Richard Ford’s newest book, Be Mine: “A Eulogy for everymen: Updike’s Rabbit and Ford’s Frank Bascombe.”

Calling the two fictional characters “quintessentially 20th-century protagonists,” Williams began by establishing a relationship between the two:

“Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom and Frank Bascombe have been mentioned together quite often for two men who don’t have all that much in common. John Updike introduced Angstrom in 1960 in Rabbit, Run, the first book in his vaunted series about a suburban salesman. Richard Ford, who was only 16 in 1960, has just published Be Mine, the fifth book featuring his garrulous, uncannily even-tempered narrator Bascombe, who first appeared in The Sportswriter.

“In 2014, Ford told the New Yorker that the relationship between his books and Updike’s was “complicated,” elaborating: “I have to say, with no reluctance, that if John hadn’t written the Rabbit books I might not have thought (as his contemporary) that three, then four, books about a real-estate salesman in New Jersey could be plausible.” He went on to highly praise Updike but also noted that he had read only one of the four Rabbit novels all the way through.

“Aside from the obvious fact that they are protagonists of multivolume series by popular and acclaimed writers, Rabbit and Frank have been linked throughout the years by what they’ve been taken to represent: Each has been called an ‘everyman’ too many times to count. It’s a word — and a projection — redolent of the 20th century. We’re too culturally atomized now to expect even broadly drawn individuals to reflect our collective life in any meaningful way, and of course those labeled ‘everyman’ have nearly always been White suburban males, whose relevance as cultural avatars (much less weathervanes) has been in steep decline. This all leaves aside the fact that Ford and Updike have both written eloquently to say that these characters are not meant to represent anything but themselves.”

Read the whole article.

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