three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
By: 
Richard Ford
user_rating: 
0

A-The Lay of the LandThe third and final Frank Bascombe novel, following The Sportswriter and Independence Day, finds the 55-year-old New Jersey real estate salesman in the midst of a personal crisis. His second wife has left him for her first husband, his first wife is flirting with him, his son hates him, his daughter has a dreadful new boyfriend, and he’s battling prostate cancer. Meanwhile, his career is mundane and dreary, and the 2000 presidential election weighs heavily on his mind. As the specter of a family Thanksgiving looms, Frank struggles to make sense of his life, middle age, and the world around him.
Knopf. 496 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0679454683

San Diego Union-Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[Ford] has given us his finest novel to date. … Part of what makes The Lay of the Land so dazzling is the way in which Ford repeats certain motifs from the earlier novels, and expands them, and the way certain events, places and characters echo or comment upon those that have come before." Scott Leibs

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Like Faulkner, Ford has created elegantly his own postage-stamp world—Haddam and the Jersey shore—and a narrator working toward a kind of peace. While not as masterful as The Sportswriter, this new novel makes a place for Bascombe in literature and our memories." Henry L. Carrigan

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Verisimilitude can be dull, and several of Frank’s mental journeys feel long. Mr. Ford’s prose, however, is far from dull. … The centerpiece of the novel … is a feat of humor and insight and pure feeling that few other writers could hope to achieve." Tara Gallagher

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars
"Like a good feast, there are some wonderful side dishes in The Lay of the Land. … But at times it seems as if Ford spent a lot of time driving around, taking notes that end up as needless details in the novel." Bob Minzesheimer

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Where The Lay of the Land excels is when Ford draws us out of Frank’s head and into the world. … Yet even this is not enough to sustain the novel." David Ulin

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"This novel showcases many of Mr. Ford’s gifts: his ability to capture the nubby, variegated texture of ordinary life; his unerring ear for how ordinary people talk; his talent for conjuring up subsidiary characters with a handful of brilliant brushstrokes. But it is a padded, static production, far more overstuffed with unnecessary asides and digressions than its predecessors." Michiko Kakutani

Fort Worth Star-Telegram 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Surely the biggest literary disappointment of this decade. … Unless you are white, male, rich and obsessed with mortality yourself, it’s a total bore." Christopher Kelly

Critical Summary

Not all of Richard Ford’s readers share his fondness for monologues, introspection, and the mundane details of everyday life. To be sure, some found them fascinating and insightful, but others were decidedly turned off. Most felt Ford had gone slightly overboard with his decision to follow Frank from car to bar to bathroom. Also, critics regarded the series of mounting unfortunate circumstances as ranging from those hopelessly contrived to those luminously metaphorical. The book seems most appealing to those who feel they can identify with the characters and their situations, particularly Frank’s struggles with the issues of age, mortality, and the meaning of life.