The final novel in the world of Frank Bascombe, one of the most indelible characters in American literature. Over the course of four celebrated works of fiction and almost forty years, Richard Ford has crafted a singular view of American life as lived. Frank Bascombe is once more our guide to the great American midway. Now in the twilight of life, a man who has occupied many colorful lives-sportswriter, father, husband, ex-husband, friend, real estate agent-Bascombe finds himself in the most sorrowing role of all: caregiver to his son, Paul, diagnosed with ALS. On a shared winter odyssey to Mount Rushmore, Frank, in typical Bascombe fashion, faces down the mortality that is assured each of us, and in doing so confronts what happiness might signify at the end of days.
Mr. Ford’s tendency to write in chin-stroking proverbs has brought him critics...but what’s important is less the truth of these utterances than the extent to which Frank relies on them. In Mr. Ford’s hands, clichés become koans, simultaneously resonant and hollow depending on one’s fortunes at the time, and to Frank they double as sound, practical counsel and bitter jokes ... Mr. Ford has written these books in the first-person present tense. The immediacy of the narration not only communicates Frank’s moment-to-moment bewilderment, it leaves him unvarnished and exposed, deprived of the luxury of sanitizing impressions that might make him look bad ... But these weaknesses, however exasperating, are vital because they help to make Frank a convincing and three-dimensional everyman ... A wonderful voice ... The Bascombe books are unquestionably faithful to randomness, to the great human accident of existence. They are also works of tremendous craft and arrangement, full of tantalizing patterns and recurrences. In this balance of meaning and meaninglessness there has always been enough mystery to keep Frank occupied for a lifetime.
A change from the earlier Bascombe books that Paul, though never handed the narrator’s mic, so fully shares the stage with Frank. The novels have bustled with ex-wives and girlfriends and colleagues and house hunters and the younger Paul, but they’ve never been as close to a two-hander as this one is ... Readers are in the position of nonstop — if one-way — conversation with him, frequently passenger-side in the car as he surveys his surroundings. It’s not surprising that fans of the books often talk about enjoying Frank’s company ... While Updike’s series gained strength, if anything...there’s more a sense of diminishing returns with Frank, a hazard of his consistency perhaps. (Even good company can start to wear.) Still, I was glad to be with him again in Be Mine, and if he’s less vital these days, doesn’t he know it.
Be Mine is not unlike a welcome late-evening phone call, two scotches in, from an old friend. Ford’s readers have been through a lot with this man ... And yet ... Be Mine isn’t shoddy, exactly, but it’s the thinnest and least persuasive of the Bascombe novels. The seams in these books have begun to show ... There’s a long, odd, uncomfortable interlude in Be Mine during which Frank falls half in love with a much younger Vietnamese woman ... The Bascombe novels have never felt especially up-to-date, culturally. Not everyone cares about pop culture, and Frank has a right to be among those who don’t. But what culture Ford does tuck into Be Mine feels random and unlikely ... God forbid he loses his sense of humor, but to paraphrase late-career Leonard Cohen, I want it darker.