Let Me Be Frank With You

Let Me Be Frank With You

I’m not from Jersey, but Philly, which is a short bridge- or boat-ride away, but boy has Ford captured the Jersey patois, sense of alienation, and its ironic humor. Plus that reverence Jerseyites feel for what they call The Shore, a kind of mythical Fun Paradise with nature in the otherwise cemented-over Northeast.

Realtor and ex-sportswriter, Frank Bascombe returns in these four intertwined tales.  Ford has stuck with the sensitive, observing hero from three of his novels The Sportswriter, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land, two of which won major awards.

Something bad, really bad, has happened to The Shore. Houses and lives have been ripped apart and most everyone is in a bad mood. Hurricane Sandy recently ripped through and most people have lost not only their homes, their finances, but also confidence in the future.

Arnie is one of them hurting in this “Nagasaki by the Sea.” Unfortunately, Bascombe sold him his own very expensive beach dream home nine months before disaster struck and in the first story, Frank must drive down and comfort poor Arnie. Comfort, placate, defend himself from murder, Franks is not exactly sure which.

“Everything Could be Worse” begins with an unfamiliar black woman knocking on Bascombe’s new inland home’s  door.  Turns out she lived in this very house as a child, so he invites her in and chats nervously with her.  Ford is adept at capturing both the awkward conversation between strangers and that accompanying unspoken dialogue running through your head, the things that pop into your brain that you don’t dare say. 

Unfortunately, the woman, Ms. Pines, shares an incident about Frank’s new home that he would prefer not to know. Now it is forever ingrained on his memory.

In “The New Normal” Frank visits his ex, who now lives in a ritzy, new-age nursing home. Everything is feng shui including the outrageous fruit paintings on the wall that look amazingly sexual. Ann and Frank have issues from long ago, but still need to reconnect with each other often. He silently observes the debilitating changes that age and disease have wrought on her once perfect body.

“Death of Others” circles around to the trauma Frank himself feels or does not from the hurricane. His wife insists that he is hiding his feelings. A plumbing under the kitchen sink scene between him and his wife showcases the complexity and caring of a good marriage.

Despite the somber subjects: illness, old age, storm destruction and angst, this book is remarkably funny. You don’t have to have fond memories of Ocean City or Long Beach Island to enjoy it. And you don't have to run any red lights either, hand blasting horn .