In Richard Ford’s closing canto of the Bascombe anthology, Be Mine (Ecco Press), we’re thrown into a disquieting, almost Beckettian confrontation with mortality and the not-so-great American dream. Our enduring protagonist, the twice-divorced Frank Bascombe – first met as a bright-eyed hopeful in 1986’s The Sportswriter – is now playing out his twilight innings as a septuagenarian, nursing his ALS-stricken son Paul.
This saga, painted in shades of the melancholic yet punctuated with Bascombe’s irrepressible grit, orchestrates an intriguing symphony of a father-son road trip from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to the face-carved cliffs of Mount Rushmore. Amid the dissonance of the 2020 US presidential election and the creeping pandemic, Ford takes us on a tragi-comic journey, plucking at the heartstrings of life’s capricious nature.
Ford’s penmanship is potent, unnerving in its intensity. The familiar and banal facets of American existence are exquisitely rendered, almost in high definition. The emotional undercurrents between Frank and Paul are charged with a nuanced friction, a push-and-pull dynamism that seesaws between familial rancor and awkward affection. And through it all, the perpetually quirky Frank remains the ever-optimist, flirting with platitudes and young women alike, refusing to bow down to despair, like a tireless thespian laughing in the face of an advancing final curtain.
Amid this existential tango, Ford integrates highbrow discourse into the narrative. Frank’s dalliance with a younger Vietnamese/American lady and his intermittent allusions to such intellectual staples as Heidegger’s Being and Time adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the tale. Yet, in their philosophical dance, Frank and Paul gingerly sidestep the grim reaper’s presence, opting for superficial bonhomie over brutal honesty.
Be Mine unfolds as a tight-knit tapestry of American reality, woven with life’s incongruities and hard-earned wisdom. While the America presented here may well be a “fool’s paradise,” Frank stands as a defiant monument to the once-hallowed American ideal – a fading beacon in the gloaming but doggedly in pursuit of that elusive butterfly, happiness.
Ford’s final act is an unflinching exploration of life’s vicissitudes, a testament to the maestro’s storytelling prowess and an apt elegy for the boomer generation. As Bascombe philosophically muses, “Not every story ends happy. Out in the gloom, you can find some lights on.” His saga is a paean to endurance in the face of inescapable mortality and failure.