Ford transition

In The Spartswriter, Richard Ford E gave us a loser for a hero, Frank i

Bascombe. Despite the author’s

reluctance to write a sequel, he couldn’t get Frank out of his mind. 5 He tells David Harris about his new novel Independence Day.

‘There are no second acts in American lives.‘ wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. and indeed at the end of Richard Ford‘s 'I‘lre .S‘pnriswriter it seemed that the curtain had fallen forever on Frank Bascombe, leaving him dangling between a past he doesn't fully understand and a ftrture he can‘t predict.

ln Imlependence Day. Ford‘s rootless anti-hero is live years older but none the wiser. His ex-wife has remarried and left New Jersey for Connecticut; his son Paul has grown up disturbed and delinquent; while he himself has made an unexpected career change. from the fourth estate to real estate. a pregnant symbol of the mores of Reagan‘s America. in keeping with Frank's existential drift through an ‘applauseless life‘. his reappearance was unplanned. even resisted.

‘The voice that he speaks in began to infiltrate my notebooks about five years ago.’ says Ford. ‘I fought it off. because I thought writing a sequel was hazardous in some ways: I might just be writing the first book over again, or maybe l'd run out in the

middle and only have halfa book. So I took about a

Richard Ford: tied to’his rootless antihero

' year to see what that voice was going to allow me to


What transpired was a novel more securely rrroored to its time and place than its predecessor. ‘lt was an attempt to take a reading. to see what one could say about that alteration in American society in the late

Ford confesses that he sees plots as being ‘qualities that books have when they don’t have a whole lot else going

for them.’

eighties.‘ says Ford.

The Spartsirriter‘s triumph lay in its interstices of plot. in brief moments of rugged lyricism where the narrative paused and we glimpsed behind the mundane into the timeless. Frank is as aphoristic and judgmental as ever. but Independence Day is a less

withheld. less self-consciously written novel. Once more. the action occurs around a significant holiday: for Easter. :1 time of rebirth and renewal. substitute the Fourth of July. a celebration of freedom from past constraints. The drama is still that of small portentous events. like father and son visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame or Frank showing an awkward customer around yet another property. Ford confesses that he sees plots as being ‘qualities that books have when they don‘t have a whole lot else going for them'. Again. the book‘s close finds Frank looking to the future with a hazy optimism.

At times it seems as if this uncommitted idealist is too hopelessly wrong in his life decisions to be so knowing about his motives. ‘Those seem to me to be qualities that human beings exhibit all the time.‘ says Ford. ‘They can be quite precise in their introspections and have a somewhat more difficult time acting on them. But characters aren‘t models for us. they're just little fascicles of response. and that's what Frank is for me.‘

Ford mentions the Dirty Realist‘ label that adheres to Raymond Carver. himself and others. ‘I don‘t resent it. ljust ignore it. It‘s away for somebody to talk about literature without allowing the kinds of distinctions within a book that the book claims for itself. In the tnain it just seems lazy; people compare one book to another when they don‘t know what the fuck else to say.‘

The tradition of American letters is important to him. but he dismisses the l-lemingwayesque challenge of climbing into the ring with other authors. ‘We're on the leading edge ofa literature that‘s being propelled by what went before. but my principal observation about American writers of my age is that they don‘t compete with each other or with the past.‘ says Ford. ‘lt‘s hard enough without taking on fights that aren’t rightly yours.‘ If he ever does enter the fray. they‘d better bring on the heavyweights.

Independence Day by Richard Ford is published by The Harri/l Press at £14. 99. Ford will be reading from and signing copies aft/re bank at Waterstane 's, 13 Princes Street (in Monday 24 July. 7pm.

um:— Borough boy

Many bleak hours spent working at Shetland’s Sullom Voe oil terminal, with nothing to do afterhours but gamble or watch television, urged Michael Cannon to write his first noveL

It began as a simple case of wanting to constructively fill the slithers of free time squeezed into his 67-hour working week. The writing soon became a compulsion. Five years later, with the tedium of those days an outpost in Gannon’s memory, The Borough has been published and a second novel is in the pipeline.

flow working at the university of Strathclyde, Gannon has surfaced quietly onto an established Glasgow literary scene he has no personal contact with. He feels ambivalent

Michael Cannon: refreshing portrayal of

about being known as a Glasgow writer and says he simply used the city’s streets as a convenient

i know if I’m especially Glaswegian,’ he ' says. ‘I don’t know what qualifies you to be a Glasgwegian writer.’

The Borough grew out of the streets of Partick, a stone’s throw from the pocket of middle-class academia surrounding Glasgow University. Cannon’s memories of living in an area characterised by its social contradictions were the ideal fodder for a novel exploring the life of a claustrophobic community. ‘You can cross a street in Glasgow and be in the heart of a district that’s of an entirely different nature,’ he says. ‘I was

fascinated by that.’

urban life

Into the Borough’s tenement-lined, tightly packed streets wanders Gannon’s narrator, an anonymous figure witnessing the lives of a group of aquaintances - their achievements, mistakes, hopelessness. A religious fanatic determined to wrap her husband in her suffocating beliefs; a backdrop for his novel, drawing on his I “Olen! fill-holler "Ifeatenlflfl ‘0

experiences of its people. ‘l don’t . destroy his wife along with himself; an

affable young man gradually sinking into the oblivion of alcoholism. There is no hard-edged, gut-wrenching ltelmanesque prose, but a humane and humorous snapshot of life, packed with compassion and a few strategically-placed punches.

One of the book’s most traumatic scenes involves the Borough’s hard man McGuIIen raping his wife in a senseless display of his physical power over her. Although Gannon found it difficult to write - ‘You have to make some imaginative leap to do that. You try to just write it, thinking about it from the outside and thinking what the mechanics would be’ - he feels violence is a part of Glasgow life he didn’t have to look hard to find.

A refreshing new voice, Gannon could be skulking around Scotland’s literary street corners for a while yet - Serpent’s Tail have already accepted his second novel. (Kathleen Morgan) The Borough by Michael Gannon Is published by Serpent’s Tail at £8.99.

The i let l4-77 Jul 1995 79