Let Me Be Frank With You

Many critics consider Richard Ford's three Frank Bascombe novels (The Sportswriter, Independence Day—which won a Pulitzer prize—and The Lay of the Land) the best such series since John Updike's four “Rabbit” novels chronicled the life of American everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Ford said The Lay of the Land would be his last Bascombe novel, so we probably should view this collection of four novellas as an encore of sorts. They're less densely rich than the full-length novels, but they are similarly characterized by Ford's sharp observation, wry humor and deep compassion. Like all of the Bascombe books, Let Me Be Frank With You is set on the New Jersey shore, this time in the weeks before Christmas 2012 and just months after nature, in the form of Hurricane Sandy, has wrought her havoc. She is also wreaking havoc on Frank, who is now 68, retired from real estate and dealing with the after-effects of prostate cancer, but he's not complaining. He knows that many of the other people in these stories—his ex-wife, for example—have it worse. Thanks to Ford's masterful ability to bring these people to life, we share Frank's need to connect with them at Christmas, even as he acknowledges his emotional inadequacy.