I thought we had heard the last of Frank Bascombe, Richard Ford's philosophical everyman.
Ford wrote about Frank when the protagonist was in his 30s ("The Sportswriter"), 40s ("Independence Day"), 50s ("The Lay of the Land"), and 60s ("Let Me Be Frank with You"). Frank has survived two divorces, cancer, a gunshot to the chest, and the loss of a child.
Richard Ford returns to Bascombe's life in his 70s with a new novel: "Be Mine."
Frank's adult son Paul is diagnosed with terminal ALS. With little time left, Paul and his father travel to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for experimental treatment; then embark on a road trip together to visit Mount Rushmore. Paul and Frank have never been close, and this trip is their last chance to salvage their relationship. One problem is that the two are too much alike. Father and son consider themselves philosophers because they each ask questions about the world. The difference is that Frank asks most of his questions silently, while Paul tends to blurt out whatever crosses his mind. Paul is angry at his father for years of neglect, and his comments shift from unfunny jokes to obnoxious sarcasm. Ford may be challenging the reader to feel sympathy for an unlikeable character who happens to be dying; or we may be seeing Paul through the filter of Frank's perceptions as he tries to alleviate the guilt of being a poor father. Regardless, it makes for an uncomfortable dynamic.
Like the previous four volumes in this series, "Be Mine" is Frank's narration and philosophy told from inside his head as it occurs.
Ford gives a wink to the fourth wall with lines like "We think what people write down in their private moments will always reveal crucial evidence of their innermost selves. Only, what goes on in anybody's head is rarely worth knowing." It is ironic, given the stream-of-consciousness style of the novel.
Also, like the previous novels, the incidents of this novel take place over a few days around a holiday. In the past, it was Easter ("The Sportswriter"), Independence Day ("Independence Day"), Thanksgiving ("The Lay of the Land"), and Christmas ("Let Me Be Frank with You"). "Be Mine" takes place around Valentine's Day, allowing the cynical Bascombe family to voice their opinions on a sentimental holiday. And like the earlier books, the plot takes a back seat to characters and their musings.
Every decade, Richard Ford revisits his most famous protagonist, who ages at about the same rate as his creator. There is no guarantee that we have seen the last of Frank Bascombe. But, if so, this is as good a send-off as any.