Richard Ford's "The Lay of the Land" takes place a decade after the weekend depicted in "Independence Day." Protagonist Frank Bascombe is now 55 and thinking about death almost all the time. Frank recently learned he has prostate cancer, which profoundly impacted his outlook.
Frank is experiencing what he calls his "Permanent Phase," in which he foolishly believes his life's major stressors and uncertainties are behind him. He is doing well financially. He owns his own real estate company and lives in a house on the beach. Throughout the week, Frank interacts with his ex-wife, his immature adult son, his conflicted lesbian daughter, his assimilated immigrant business partner, and a host of strangers and acquaintances. But most of his encounters are unpleasant, and some are hostile. The novel takes us through Thanksgiving week and follows Frank's actions and thoughts - almost minute by minute. The narration is written in the first person and is told in the present tense, except for some flashbacks. As a result, we get an account of all that happens during Frank's waking hours and his impressions of the events and the people involved. Frequently, pages of Frank's opinion follow a page of dialogue and action.
I have not decided whether I like Frank. He is polite to most people, but he disdains many of them. Regardless, he does not deserve many things that happen to him. He and his second wife Sally were happily married for years when Sally's husband Wally reappeared decades after he was declared legally dead. Sally decides to leave Frank and rejoin Wally in Scotland, where he has been living all this time.
Ford has a casual style that appeals to me and makes Frank's philosophy interesting and bearable. Frank is quirky and arrogant, but not unbearably so. He is a detached observer who may or may not be a reliable narrator. Some of his observations are insightful, and some are trivial. He compares everyone's looks to 1940s movie stars for no obvious reason.
This book contains both more action and more introspection than its predecessor. Like "Independence Day," this one relies far more on characters than a plot to advance the story. The book also presents a chaotic climax near the end as Frank witnesses a violent confrontation outside his home on Thanksgiving afternoon. It is more brutal than the climax of "Independence Day," but it serves a similar purpose by injecting sudden and unexpected action into the book.