First read: 1990
Owned since: 2006 (this copy)
I've talked before about the unreliability of memory. I have a vivid memory of reading this book on an airplane, sometime in 1990. It was a library copy, and I want to say I was going to San Francisco -- but I didn't go to San Francisco for the first time until 1991, and I read A Prayer for Owen Meany on that trip.
Wherever I was, I remember the hypnotic pull of this melancholy book, and how I got halfway through it before I even realized that the narrator, Frank Bascombe, was telling the story in the present tense, and much of it in the second person. As regular readers of this blog know, I disapprove of novels written in the present tense; Richard Ford is the exception that proves the rule.
The Sportswriter is the story of the first Easter weekend after the death of Frank Bascombe's son. I think of it in some ways as a companion book to Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, which is set over Mardi Gras -- both books are about the permanence of loss and the resilience of hope, and the narrators share a dreamy fatalism that can't help being surprised by grace.
The Sportswriter ends with Bascombe waiting to be surprised again.
...one natural effect of life is to cover you in a thin layer of ... what? A film? A residue or skin of all the things you've done and been and said and erred at? I'm not sure. But you are under it, and for a long time, and only rarely do you know it, except that for some unexpected reason or opportunity you come out -- for an hour or even a moment -- and you suddenly feel pretty good. And in that magical instant you realize how long it's been since you felt just that way. Have you been ill, you ask. Is life itself an illness or a syndrome? Who knows?