Saturday, August 14, 2010

It's Like Twilight for Old People

This Summer I decided to navigate my way around all of the teen fervor surrounding Twilight (you know, that popular series of movies based on that popular series of books about how hard it is for a young girl to decide whether she should have sex with a vampire, or have sex with a werewolf.)by reading the last in a trilogy of Pulitzer prize winning books by novelist Richard Ford, The Lay of the Land. Like The Sportswriter and Independence Day before it, Lay of the Land picks up on the further adventures of New Jersey resident Frank Bascombe, a character who shows us that once the mystery of our virginity is solved life goes on, getting infinitely more complex and problematic than any issue Bella and Edward may have faced in their idyllic cocoon of teen angst.

A good friend introduced me to Ford's books back at a time in my life when I would have enjoyed the Twilight novels much more than I ever could now. Enjoyed them that is, had they been written yet and had I actually been able to get around Stephanie Meyers' wretched prose. At the very least I could have better related to what its characters were going through in their lives. The very adult adventures of Frank Bascombe, a man going through midlife crisis after midlife crisis, a man struggling to come to terms with career, love, children, and loss was all very foreign to me when I read The Sportwriter and Independence Day back in my early twenties. If anything I imagined Bascombe as my father and identified more with the son with whom he was having so many problems. As I muddled my way through those books however my overall impression was this: Pulitzer Prize or not, this is one difficult read.

In the time since I finished reading Independence Day about eight years passed before Lay of the Land was even published. Four more years transpired before I found and purchased a copy at a used book store. Then, six months went by before I started reading it. So a little bit of time (and life experience) transpired before revisiting the fictional life of Frank Bascombe. He has aged some, settled into his life (what is constantly referred to as 'The Permanent Period"), is dealing with a cancer scare, and slowly becoming a cranky old man. I still imagine him as my father, but something for me in reading Lay of the Land changed: It was much easier to digest than the previous two books. At first I wanted to say that Richard Ford had grown lazy as an author, that he had written this story quickly at the urging of his agent, hungry for a quick paycheck based on a known commodity. But then I quickly realized that Ford's writing was as dense as ever: It had been me who had changed, more entangled in these mature themes than I was a decade ago.

When you get down to it then, these books are about what each of us faces in life after we decide to stop living like children (eg.Twilight, Harry Potter etc.) and decide to start living like adults. Adult life throws many challenges our way and we can either choose to relish them or allow them to destroy us. I'm not in the "Permanent Period" of which Ford writes, yet, but I know it's coming. I have friends I grew up with (including the friend who initially gifted The Sportswriter to me) who are already there. Frank Bascombe reminds us that divorce, death, betrayal, sickness and love enter all of our complicated lives when we least expect them to, but it's what we do as we are dealing with these problems that make our lives complete. Because of this, the next time someone asks me if I choose Team Edward or Team Jacob, my response will be neither.

I choose Team Frank.

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