Born in 1944 in Jackson, Mississippi, Richard Ford writes realist novels focused on the inner landscapes of introspective, often lonely characters, whose lives are suddenly turned upside-down. The Sportswriter, his third novel, is the first of four books to feature genial anti-hero Frank Bascombe. Ford was inspired by his time working as a writer for a sports magazine in the early 1980s. He’d returned to writing fiction after the magazine folded.
Set over an Easter weekend, The Sportswriter follows the fortunes of thirty-eight-year-old Bascombe as he approaches a crossroads in his unspectacular life. He has lost his way as a sports journalist and while he tries to be a good person, he repeats old mistakes. Beneath his cheerful demeanour and optimistic outlook, he hides feelings of sadness and loss.
“If sportswriting teaches you anything, and there is much truth to it as well as plenty of lies, it is that for your life to be worth anything you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret. Though you must also manage to avoid it or your life will be ruined.”
Si escribir de deportes enseña algo, y en esto hay tanto de verdad como de mentira, es que, para que la vida valga la pena, tarde o temprano hay que enfrentarse a la posibilidad de sentir un terrible y doloroso arrepentimiento. Pero hay que intentar evitarlo o uno echaría a perder su vida.
Bascombe is now divorced, but at one time he and his wife (who he refers to throughout the novel as X) were looking to buy a home together. The couple eventually settled in the (fictional) town of Haddam in New Jersey. This is the home where Bascombe now lives alone.
“For lack of a better idea I cast my vote for New Jersey: a plain, unprepossessing and unexpectant landscape [...] And for Haddam with its hilly and seminary niceness [...] where a fellow might sit down with good hope and do a serious piece of work.”
A falta de una idea mejor, yo voté por Nueva Jersey: un paisaje llano, no especialmente atractivo y sin muchas expectativas, y no me equivocaba. Y por Haddam, con la belleza de su elevado y umbrío seminario [...] allí podría sentarme con la esperanza de escribir algo serio.
the wrong life
The death of his young son leads to a period of dreaminess in Bascombe’s life, which precipitates his divorce. Even as he starts a new relationship with a young nurse called Vicki, the feeling of detachment remains. A trip to Detroit seems full of promise, until late one night in their hotel room, Vicky discovers Bascombe searching through her handbag.
‘“So what is it you were lookin’ for in my bag?’ she says [...]
‘I wasn’t looking for anything, really. I wasn’t looking.’ I was looking, of course. And this is the wrong lie, though a lie is absolutely what’s needed [...]
‘I don’t keep secrets,’ she says now in a flat voice. ‘I suppose you do though?’
Sometimes I do.’ I lose nothing admitting that.
‘And you lie about things, too.’”
—¿Qué es lo que buscabas en mi bolso? —dice ella [...]
—La verdad es que no buscaba nada —sí que buscaba. Esa mentira es un error, pero no me queda más remedio que mentir [...]
—Yo no tengo ningún secreto —dice ella en tono categórico—. Pero, por lo visto, tú sí.
—A veces sí —no pierdo nada admitiéndolo.
—Y también dices mentiras.
Home from his trip to Detroit and after an unsuccessful interview with a wheelchair-bound American football star, Bascombe should be enjoying Easter dinner with Vicki and her family. Instead, he receives a phone call from the police. A tragedy has occurred. That same evening, as darkness falls, Bascombe finds himself outside an empty house on the outskirts of Haddam with X.
“‘You’re not a real bad man. I’m sorry. I don’t think divorce has worked wonders for you.’ She puts the car into gear so that it lurches, yet doesn’t quite leave. ‘It was a bad idea I had.’
‘Your loved ones are the ones you’re supposed to trust,’ I say. ‘Who’s after that?’
She smiles at me a sad, lonely smile out of the instrument panel twilight.
‘I don’t know.’ I can see her eyes dancing with tears.
‘I don’t know either. It’s getting to be a problem.’”
—No creo que seas malo. Lo siento, pero creo que el divorcio no te ha hecho mucho bien —pone en marcha el coche, que vibra, pero sigue inmóvil—. No ha sido una idea muy buena.
—Los seres queridos son los únicos en quienes se puede confiar —digo—. ¿En quién, si no?
Me dedica una sonrisa triste y solitaria bajo la luz del tablero de mandos.
—No lo sé —veo sus ojos bañados en lágrimas.
—Yo tampoco. Empieza a ser un problema.
The Sportswriter brought Ford acclaim as a writer; its sequel, Independence Day, written almost a decade later, won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize. In subsequent novels Lay of the Land (2006) and Let Me Be Frank With You (2014), Ford’s protagonist Frank Bascombe ages gracefully, moving from a writing career to real estate.