GAN Quest: The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

A digressive, long-winded, over-adjectived, frequently-hyphenated contemplation of the middle-aged, middle-classed, middle-of-the-road American male…

😦

the lay of the landFrank Bascombe sets out to have a meeting with his ex-wife. Five immensely tedious reading hours later and nearly a third of the way through the book, he hasn’t yet got there. But he has digressed endlessly on those subjects that seem to obsess the white, middle-class, middle-aged American male of fiction – their health, the fact that they don’t understand their children, their ex-wives (almost always plural), their sexual prowess or lack thereof, and the way the country is going to the dogs. I admit defeat – I can’t take any more.

I feared right from the beginning that I was going to struggle with this book. Straight away, Ford gets into existential crisis mode with our narrator, having been diagnosed with prostate cancer, fearing that he is not ready to meet his maker. Five hours later, I was unsympathetically thinking that he shouldn’t worry – he has plenty of time left since he has the ability to turn every hour into a yawning eternity of low-level angst. It took me four days to read that five hours’ worth, because I had to keep stopping to remind myself that actually life isn’t a dismal wasteland of pretentious emptiness – or at least, if it is, then I prefer my own pretentious emptiness to that of the tediously self-obsessed Frank Bascombe.

Each line of sparse and unrealistic dialogue is separated by two or three paragraphs analysing the one before and anticipating the one to come, while every noun is preceded by roughly eight, usually-hyphenated, increasingly-convoluted-and-contrived, unnecessary-except-to-fill-up-the-space adjectives…

…elderly, handsome, mustachioed, silver-haired, capitalist-looking gentleman in safari attire…

…a fetid, lightless, tin-sided back-country prison…

…a smirky, blond, slightly hard-edged, cigarette-smoking former Goucher girl… (what on earth is a Goucher girl? All those words and yet he still fails to communicate his meaning.)

Frankly, until I tried to read this book, I thought I was fairly fluent in American. After all, I coped with Twain’s dialect in Huckleberry Finn and Steinbeck’s in The Grapes of Wrath, and dealt comfortably with Ellis’ pop culture obsession in American Psycho. But it appears not. Even my Kindle’s built-in US-English dictionary didn’t recognise more than half of the words I looked up. Has he invented this language? Or is it a kind of slang that was fashionable a decade or so ago and has now been already forgotten? Whatever, if it’s comprehensible to Americans then that’s what matters, of course, but I think I’d have to wait for the English translation to become available. Though I’m in no rush for it…

…skint black hair…

…business lunch and afternoon plat-map confab…

…against every millage to extend services to the boondocks…

My life in Haddam always lacked the true resident’s naive, relief-seeking socked-in-ed-ness…

Richard Ford
Richard Ford

It’s not just made-up words and jargon related to the property market that are problematic for this non-US reader, it’s also his use of brands as a shortcut to description – fine if the brands mean something to the reader, otherwise irritating. And he constantly does the same with what I assume are cultural references…

He knows I bleed Michigan blue but doesn’t really know what that means. (Nope, nor me.)

This means a living room the size of a fifties tract home. (So… tiny? Huge? Average?)

Mike frowns over at me. He doesn’t know what Kalamazoo means, or why it would be so side-splittingly hilarious. (Again, nope – pity, because by that stage I could have done with a laugh.)

I’m not really blaming the book for being ‘too’ American – why shouldn’t it be? – but it did make it impossible for me to get into any kind of reading flow, since I was constantly either looking things up or trying to work out the meaning from the context, a problem I’m not usually aware of when reading American fiction, or certainly not to this degree. I’m quite sure that was a large part of why I found it such a stultifying read, but I’d have tolerated it if I’d felt the book was shedding light on anything that interested me. But I’m afraid the trials and obsessions of the well-off, educated, American male don’t, particularly. Shall I eat wheat-grain or indulge my wicked side with a ‘furter? Let me list all the things I wear so you can understand my social position. I spent $2000 dollars on Thanksgiving lunch just because I can.

A 1950s tract house - or as we in the UK would call it - a house.
A 1950s tract home – or as we in the UK would call it – a house.

Buried amidst the heap of unnecessary wordiness, there is probably some insight on what it is to be middle-aged, middle-classed, middle-of-the-road and male in Millenium America, and there may even be bits that are funny. Sadly I lost my ability to laugh at around page 5, but am hoping it may return now that I’ve abandoned it. Is there a plot or a story or any kind of forward progression? Not that I noticed, but maybe it becomes a gripping read once he gets to the meeting with his ex-wife, if he ever does. I guess I shall never know…

* * * * * * *

(Dear Matt, (who recommended this one to me) – my sincere apologies! Sometimes the reader and the book just don’t gel, and I had to get it out of my system for fear of developing stomach ulcers. 😉 )

 

* * * * * * *

Great American Novel Quest

So…how does it fare in The Great American Novel Quest*laughs hollowly* To win that title it needs to achieve all five of the criteria in my original post…

Must be written by an American author or an author who has lived long enough in the US to assimilate the culture.

us flagAchieved.

The theme must shed light on a specific and important aspect of American culture and society of the time of its writing.

white_flagPerhaps it would have if I could have borne to read all the way through. But since I couldn’t – not achieved.

It must be innovative and original in theme.

white_flagSince I feel as if every second book written by American males (and indeed British males) is an exceedingly similar account of their middle-aged angst, then no.

Must be superbly written.

white_flagUmm…guess the answer to this one!

 

Must capture the entire ‘American experience’.

white_flagNo.

 

* * * * * * *

So not The Great American Novel, and since I couldn’t bring myself to finish it, neither A Great American Novel nor even a great novel, I’m afraid. Though perhaps Americans might feel differently…

* * * * * * *

PS Fascinatingly, every single 5-star review of this on Amazon UK is written by a man. I don’t think I’ve ever come across that before on any novel. Perhaps it’s not so much that I’m the wrong nationality as the wrong gender… or both.

Book 7
Book 7

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

68 thoughts on “GAN Quest: The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

  1. So let me guess, FictionFan…you weren’t too keen on this one? Thanks, as ever, for your thoughtfulness and candor. You make an interesting point about the use of language. As I was reading the snippets you shared, I was thinking, ‘That’s not the way most Americans I know speak.’ I’m sure some do – there are a lot of Americans I’ve not met. But that’s not even easy to read for those of who ‘speak American.’ As to the rest? No…don’t think this one is for me.

    • Haha! You can always see through my subtle criticisms! 😉 In almost any book there will be the odd cultural reference that the reader doesn’t get – even when it’s their own culture. But with this one it seemed like every paragraph had something in it that meant nothing to me – frustrating! And no, the underlying stuff wasn’t worth the effort… for me, anyway.

  2. Oh, FF – I am so sorry for your painful experience of this book… but it makes for an excellent review, let me tell you! With any luck, his ex-wife killed him off the second he stepped through her door and started talking in words no one understands. I’m going to read this (or try to) – I think it has the makings of a book I’d love to hate. Also it will be nice to have something to shout at.

  3. *laughing lots* Stellar review! My favorite part was when you said in the second paragraph that he shouldn’t worry about time and all that, ’cause he can go on and on.

    So, how horrible would it be to admit I’ve not much idea what he’s talking about either? The bleeding the blue thing has something to do with a sports team, but that’s all I can tell you there. No idea about the house thingy either…must be builders’ words!

    He really used that many adjectives?! *laughing* Goodness. I wonder how someone could look capitalist. And I do hope men aren’t like that. There is some normal ones out there, we must believe.

    • Thank you! Haha! I wondered if Einstein had had a conversation with him just before he worked out that time is relative…

      I’m kinda glad to hear it! If you started talking like that, I’d have to start talking like Burns! Yes, I think there was lots of real estate jargon in it – such fun!

      And he couldn’t even spell moustachioed properly! *laughs* Just make sure that if you ever have to choose between wheat-germ and ‘furters, you don’t decide to write a book about the experience…

      • *laughs* Poor bloke. All the author needs is a robin hood hat. Don’t you agree, FEF?

        Right up your alley! Well…just think, you could probably sell a house now. Maybe.

        I’m not even sure what those two things are, but I promise.

        • *laughs* Yes! But he’d need a purple one to match his jumper (Amer. – sweater)

          Only an American one though. I could sell yours! Now let me see – I wonder what the millage is and if it’s shown on the plat-map. Are you close to the boondocks?

          *laughs more* Me neither, but I still think the ‘furter sounds better…

          • Ew! I didn’t even notice he was wearing a PINK sweater!!

            Now what in the world is a boondocks? I’m on google earth, which I’m rather proud about.

            Yeah…a wheat-germ just sounds disgusting! You know, I bet he’s referring to a hot dog, now that I think on it.

            • It’s PURPLE!!

              Well, if you don’t know, how on earth am I supposed to?! The Professorial Mansion? Or you personally? *imagines a large statue of the Professor in downtown Pittsburgh*

              You could be right! In which case, definitely preferable to wheat-germ, I’d say.

            • That’s pink! But pink or purple, he shouldn’t be wearing it, and you know it!

              *laughing* No, there’s no statue. But my abode is. I found it, and that strangely makes me proud. Ooo, the theme of Rohan is good.

              *laughs* Quite right! Have you ever had duck?

            • Not a top fashion choice, I agree!

              My abode is too, though it’s kind of from a funny angle that makes it look flat – tall enough for the cats but tricky for humans. Um… is it? *tries hard to follow the connection*

              Love duck! Poor little things… they’re so sweet – especially when done in a nice sauce…

            • *laughs* Yes, everything does look very flat and boring, I must admit. It is! Better than Gondor’s! I’m not sure why I thought of it.

              I need to try some some time. Must.

            • Would you be appalled if I said I hardly ever notice the music on films?

              Have Peking duck the next time you go to a Chinese restaurant…

            • I’m sure you’re right – well, your vids have convinced me of that, in fact, but somehow when I’m watching a movie I rarely notice it. You’ll just have to make videos of all the best ones…

              It can be dry depending on how it’s cooked. I always enjoy it best in Chinese food – they seem to have the technique of keeping it tender. Probably the sauces and stuff. Definitely not tasteless though!

            • You know, sometimes the music can definitely be missed in a movie! Unless, it’s really thematic like LoTR or PotC. I only started noticing Jurassic World music after I saw the film twice. I don’t know. I’m weird that way. Love movie music!

              Glad to hear you say it! And I shall trust what you say, since you’ve actually had it. I’m very tempted to try it now.

            • I think I’ll perhaps rewatch LotR at the weekend and try to concentrate on the music. Not PotC though – I’ll just stick to your vid for that one! Have you seen the new Jurassic film yet?

              You should!

            • *laughs* I do wonder what you’d make of it. If you go, pay attention to the new theme when they fly in the helicopter. Well, I think you have the option to see it in 3D or not. Do you like 3D?

            • I shall! (Is that a hint?) I haven’t watched any 3D since it became popular again – there was a phase of it in my youth but it’s probably much better now. I might consider it. Did you watch the 3D or the 2D?

  4. This books sounds awful, but your review made me laugh!

    The living room description should be an example sentence in a how-not-to-write guide. Fifties homes were tiny, but what is small for a house is large for a living room. So it’s a big room…maybe(?), which conflicts with the tiny/constricted image created in the reader’s mind by evoking a fifties-era home…Ick.

    I get the Michigan Blue bit, but only because I went to school in the Midwest and have heard it said often: someone who bleeds Michigan Blue is a devout follower of the University of Michigan sports teams. (I think.) I’m not really a football or basketball fan…

    Unfortunately, I “have to” read one of Ford’s books: Independence Day. BUT, while I have informally committed myself to reading all the Pulitzer winners, I never specified how quickly I would read them or in what order. Phew! This one can wait a few years now. I don’t even own a copy yet. 🙂

    • I just had to get it out of my system! 😉

      I felt in the end I was spending more time on Google than the book – when you find yourself looking up dimensions of houses in another continent, you have to start wondering if there isn’t something more productive you could be doing with your time. But I think it was the socked-in-ed-ness that finished me – though I could have understood sock-in-the-jaw-ed-ness – it would have summed up my desires perfectly by that stage…

      Haha! Don’t let me put you off completely though – there are far more 5-star reviews of this than 1-stars… I suspect the problem is with me as much as the book in this case…

  5. Oh dear, oh dear! I rarely feel I can ‘like’ a review of a turkey, because, after all, as they appear on my posts I like widget, subliminally I feel I’m recommending the book, as much as a sterling review of a book – but, in this case, how can I resist. You are very very funny when the lashing starts (and it does sound well-deserved lashing, at that!)

    And how interesting that all the glowing reviews are by guys. Though presumably there are also ‘it’s pants!’ reviews from other guys, not to mention rather a lot from gals?

    I must admit your excerpts made me squirm with laughter – not to mention relief that I wouldn’t be devoting 5 hours of my life (or even 5 minutes) to reading this.

    It’s exceedingly kind of you to save us all from misery. Probably even kinder than when you spur us on to read other books which you know we will get delight from.

    5 hours – you really spent 5 hours before deciding you could spend no more? That is reading kindness beyond and above the call of duty.

    • Haha! It’s the only way I can retain my mental equilibrium – assuming I possess such a thing!

      Yes, isn’t it? You quite often see books where all the 5s are from women but not so often the other way round, except for really blokey books about sport and such-like. To be fair, there are far more five-stars than one-stars on both sides of the Atlantic, so I suspect this book is better than I’m making out – you know what it’s like… sometimes an author’s style just doesn’t work for a particular reader. And you know I hate books without some kind of plot. But yes, even in the US the vast majority of 5s are from men…

      I would have abandoned it much earlier except I didn’t want to be disrespectful to Matt’s recommendation. That plan didn’t work out so well, though, huh? 😉 I think you should read it to decide which of us is right about it…. *runs off, chuckling*

      • Oh no no, you don’t (at this point) get me reading it to see if I agree with you or Matt. The excerpts you chose didn’t make me yearn to hear more of his voice.

        Maybe I’ll give it a try if you re-read The Goldfinch – runs off, chirruping

    • Hurrah! I’m glad to hear it – it was one of those ‘is it just me?’ things for me. I was wondering if maybe everybody else used these expressions all the time…

  6. Oh, Fiction Fan. Bravo to you for your courageous and intelligent review. It is so easy for someone to buy into the hype of a writer, but you did not. And you cheered me up as well, since I have sometimes felt that I was missing something, that my immediate negative reaction in trying to read Ford’s “The Sportswriter” was due to impatience, or some unfair lack of appreciation for someone who generally gets raved about by critics.

    Now, I am a man, and I rather like “male books,” with what one might call a lean and muscular prose. I liked The Sun Also Rises, and I like Hammett and Chandler and Ross MacDonald, and Richard Yates, and much of Irwin Shaw, among some others. But I do not like a kind of style or approach which almost makes a fetish out of it; a kind of cool almost-hipness which some take for literary bona fides. Tell a compelling story, make it interesting. Digress at times if you want, but don’t make the digressions stand in for the story. There are other writers like this here, too; and if I did not have to rush off, I would try to think of them. Maybe T. Coraghessan Boyle, who always gets recommended, but whose every book I look at in the bookstore seems insufferably tedious. Maybe his style is different, I have not read enough to be sure; but I think it is again style to substitute for the art of narrative story telling. . Maybe the UK has a similar type of writer, but in an insufferably British context?

    Let’s see: A plat map is I think a map of locales of subdivisions of housing, or something like that. You probably knew that. A confab (short for confabulation) is a little meeting, a discussion.

    Maize and blue are the school colors of Michigan University. So the fans there like to think of “Michigan blue,” just like the fans of North Carolina U talk about “Carolina blue.” “Bleeding Michigan blue” means being a very big fan of Michigan sports, primarily football. “He doesn’t know what that means,” might refer to the other person not appreciating how devoted or intense a fan of Michigan football the narrator is.

    Boondocks is a term used since around the ’50’s, I think; a sort of pejorative but llighthearted term for an out of the way place, or an uncultured one. “I live out in the boondocks” means “I live way out there, where there isn’t much going on.” Billie Joe Royal wrote a song once called “Down in the Boondocks.”

    Millage I sort of feel ilke I know, maybe to do with mills. It seems like something I read in medieval literature once.

    Socked-in might mean limited to one’s own little world. One could be socked in at the airport; not able to fly out because of bad weather, hence constrained as if one were stuck in a sock. Socked-in-edness, is an irritating turn of phrase, a cute way to say “the quality of being ‘socked in’.”

    Kalamazoo is a city in Michigan. Why it is funny, I do not know. Glenn Miller had a song about Kalamazoo, just a fun little play on words. “I’ve got a gal/in Kalamazoo.” “Zoo zoo zoo zoo zoo,” the song went. That doesn’t tell us much, but maybe this is an “in” thing to Ford’s characters. Lots of things are “in” to Ford’s characters.

    :”Skint,” I have no idea. I have never seen that word in my life.

    Well, Ford’s reputation as a great writer will still endure. I still keep thinking that there must be something worthwhile there, for him to get so much credit. But–and this really is only based on my attempts to get interested in “The Sportswrite,” and now your review–my sense is that he is getting credit for style, and for seeming to be about something really meaningful; something about the quality of being American or being in the Midwest, when it is actually suffocated in the style, and in a kind of pretentious tone. This is one of the reasons why I sometimes despair of finding much in the way of good literature. Because rest assured that many people consider Ford a great writer. But in fairness, Matt ( do not recall his last name) who recommended the book, unquestionably has a fine knowledge of American literature, so I am not claiming to be “right” as against his “wrong.” I just continue to think that Ford is getting credit for being a literary descendant of better writers. And I would not read any more of his books, even though the titles and covers always look rather appealing at the bookstores.

    • ”Skint,” I have no idea. I have never seen that word in my life.

      “Skint” has meaning in the UK (broke, short of money), but that’s obviously not the sense in which Ford is using it. A typo for “skink,” perhaps?

      • I admit I did wonder on occasion if maybe the Kindle copy had a lot of typos – in fact, I wondered if ‘skint’ might have been supposed to be ‘shiny’. But then I thought I was just trying to find excuses for him… 😉

    • Haha! Thank you! I never mind blasting a book by a major author since my review will do them no harm – I’d never be so brutal to a newish author (well, only very rarely if they were actually offensive, perhaps). But poor Mr Ford hit a few of my triggers – no plot!! I can’t bear books that don’t have some kind of story lurking in there somewhere. Middle-class angst!!! I do feel there’s a place for it in literature since it’s a part of life, but oh! I’m so bored reading about the relatively trivial concerns of the privileged! And waffle!!! Cut to the chase! If someone wants me to read 700 pages and stay awake throughout, they have to be filling it with something more exciting than the great wheat-germ/’furter debate!!

      I’m not sure what it is that makes this appeal so much more to males, except the obvious fact that it’s about a man. But I too liked The Sun… and most of the other stuff you mention – while I could see the ‘maleness’ in them, I didn’t find them so uninteresting as this. In fact, as a subject, I find ‘maleness’ quite fascinating since we live in an era when it’s under assault from so many directions. But I didn’t find this one was so much about maleness as just about a rather tedious man.

      Lots of the references wouldn’t have bothered me – we all miss the odd cultural reference in a book, even if its our own culture. But there were just so many in this one that I felt I was spending as much time on Google as on the book. And socked-in-ed-ness finished me…

      Haha! Matt has been responsible for some of my best reads over the last couple of years – Colm Toibin, Revolutionary Road etc – so I’m hopeful he’ll forgive me for this one… 😉

  7. Since I am a white, middle-class, way-beyond middle-age, American male from the midwest, I would get most of the slang-type references. I don’t think that I’m going to waste my time trying to wade though the long-winded garbage that had you found impeded your search for a deeply-thoughtful story. I glad you warned me, even though this book was never on my watch-list.
    Hyphens galore 😉 and more run-on sentence structure for your enjoyment

    • I wouldn’t have minded missing the odd reference, but honestly it felt like this one was written in a different language a lot of the time. But yes, the many-hyphened-adjectives wore me down eventually, and I gave up the search for a story after the first four hours or so… 😉

  8. So, I’m the culprit. But happy to have been so. If even just one UK reader got a chance to feel how difficult it is for Americans to work their way through their first few Irish or UK novels, it was worth it. All the same questions and roadblocks arise–so much so that I keep my own running translations guide going, for reference, because I’m very nearly addicted to Irish and UK fiction now. (What the heck are “crosses and naughts”? A “dual carriageway”? “Doolally”? “Potato jackets”?)

    Anyway, yes, most Americans get things like “bleeds Michigan blue” straightaway–well, most male Americans anyway, because it’s a team sports thing, primarily football (American football, not soccer . . .), hence Ford had no qualms about using it; indeed, it tells the reader a whole lot in three words. In fact, if one is to put readers into the head of a protagonist/narrator, the use of that particular type of person’s lingo is key, even in narration that’s not dialogue. It’s why Huck Finn is so difficult to get through. But imagine an American reader tackling City of Bohane by Kevin Barry! I did, and I loved it (though, in truth, this really is made-up Irish to a large extent–but it’s a great book if anyone’s interested).

    It’s interesting what William says about T.C. Boyle. I find his work just exactly as William describes it, absolutely tedious; I’ve never made it through even a few chapters. But I’ve read every single novel and short story collection Ford has ever published, many of them a second time (The Sportswriter included), and loved them all.

    So, this book–and Ford’s oeuvre in general–is not for everyone. But then, half the people to whom I give some of my favorites–The Sense of an Ending (Barnes) or The Testament of Mary (Toibin), say–have the same reaction FF had to The Lay of the Land.

    Why? Because it’s literary fiction. It’s right next to poetry on the proverbial bookshelf, all the way across the store from nonfiction, and a good walk from lots that’s in between.

    I would offer my apologies to FF, but we both know none are due either way for this sort of thing. Like the characters in Ford’s fiction, we mean well.

    • Oh, I was hoping you might be on vacation and miss this review… 😉

      Haha! I’m so sorry! I tried, I really tried! It was really the sheer number of references I didn’t get that made it such a trying read – I’d always expect to miss a few or have to look them up, but it seemed like almost every paragraph in this one. And partly it was that he was being so smugly superior about poor Mike not getting all the references too that made me want to socked-in-ed-ness him in the eye!! But honestly, I do feel that criticising a GAN quest novel for being ‘too American’ might be being a little unfair…

      I love your examples from Irish and British writing – doolally is such a wonderful word, and comes I believe from our days of Empire. So many corruptions of Indian words have crept into our vocabulary. I guess it doesn’t usually happen quite so often the other way (ie, US to UK), because we are so exposed to US culture all our lives, through film and TV. In fact, more and more Americanisms are creeping into our version of English every day – I expect we’ll all eventually be spelling moustachioed without the first ‘o’. 😉 And while I see why you wouldn’t know ‘crosses and naughts’, I’d recognise ‘tic-tac-toe’ immediately.

      But indeed no apologies due! Half the fun of fiction is disagreeing – what a dull world if we all loved or hated the same things. Finally manged to convert Lady Fancifull to Revolutionary Road – so there’s one we can all agree on!

  9. Kalamazoo is a place in Michigan and is a Native American word that has to do with bubbling water. It would be nice if that suddenly clarified all of it for you. Timbuktu is a s a city in the West African nation of Mali situated 20 km north of the River Niger on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. See, it was a saying when you put them together. “From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu” meant a long way to go.

    You are welcome. ;D

  10. Well, this is exactly why writing is so hard, FF! Words that are common to one culture draw a blank stare for another; terminology that’s in use in one generation falls by the wayside as years pass. You know, editors and agents typically seem to prefer we make things specific (McDonald’s, for example, not merely fast food), but look how many problems that could create! Well written review, and I feel your pain in struggling through this read!

    • I know – it’s hard because use of contemporary slang and cultural shortcuts can add a lot… but only if the readers are on the same wavelength. Normally I don’t mind if I don’t get a few references but there just seemed so many in this one! I felt I was spending as much time in Google as on the book, and there wasn’t enough else in it to make the struggle seem worthwhile. But it gets far more five-star reviews than one-stars so it’s obviously just one of those ones where the reader and writer were out of synch…

  11. Is it wrong that when I see you haven’t liked a book, my heart lifts a little because I know a review that will really make me laugh is about to follow? Not that I’m wishing you bad reading experiences, but your followers definitely benefit 😀

    • Haha! Thanks, I think! I cannot tell a lie – I get far, far more pleasure out of doing a 1-star rant than out of 5 gushing 5-stars. It’s almost worth reading the bad books for… 😉

  12. Jumping in between writing camp and vacation to give you a great big smile. 😀 Thank you for your honesty. The only insight I can give you is in reference to “Michigan blue.” The majority in blue states voted Democrat in the last election, while the majority in red states voted Republican. I’m thinking that the reference to the tract house would be small? The rest, well, no real clue…and I’m American. 😀

    • Hello, hello!! Haha! At least you haven’t come back to me tempting you with some irresistible 5-star. Now, yes, that does kind of make sense in the context – I always get confused about the colours in US politics because it’s the opposite way round here – conservative, blue; socialist (or at least left-wing), red. But I’m glad Americans struggle with some of these references too – makes me feel less like someone from the boondocks. 😉

      Hope the writing camp went well and you are stuffed with new knowledge and good food! Enjoy the vacation! (Don’t forget to pack the books…)

  13. Keep calm and eat chocolate. This is why I have so much trouble with lit.fic, but I did enjoy your review – it gave me a good laugh on a day when I needed one.

    • Haha! Some days only chocolate sees me through! Though there’s something wickedly enjoyable about 1-starring a book that’s thought of as a great classic… 😉

  14. I read Richard Ford’s Canada and enjoyed it, but he doesn’t fall into my category of American male authors whose prose I am in awe of, for me the king is Cormac McCarthy, especially his Border Trilogy and then John Steinbeck (although I haven’t read The Grapes of Wrath). I also have a feeling that I am going to enjoy Kent Haruf who I haven’t read, but plan to read his Plainsong Trilogy before getting to the special novella he wrote just before his ill-timed death recently.

    • I’ve only read one of McCarthy’s books, The Road, which I really admired. He’s on my never-ending list to investigate further. I found The Grapes of Wrath hugely powerful, but I’m always ambivalent about Steinbeck – I always feel I’m being subjected to emotional trickery with him somehow. And I’ve never read any of Kent Haruf – I’ll look forward to hearing your opinion when you get a chance to read him.

  15. It sounds like this was a double-whammy of middle-aged-white-man-problems (not often my favorite kind of book) and a large number of midwestern cultural references. And now that I wrote that sentence, I wonder about my use of “double-whammy,”— kind of like “two strikes” in baseball, I guess.

    I know Ford has lots of fans, but if you aren’t in awe of his style or the story, it’s hard to get into his stuff. I’ve started a few of his books but never finished them, and I think, like someone above in the comments said, that’s a problem with literary fiction.

    Before I wrap up this comment, I’ll pass on a few explanations of mysterious references.
    1. Goucher girl- someone who attended Goucher College, all-female school in Maryland, I think.
    2. millage- it’s to do with your property taxes. Entities like schools libraries, etc ask for tax increases via millage requests.
    3. I’ve been a Michigander for something over 13 years now, and the Go Blue! thing for University of Michigan is huge. And Kalamazoo is a city in western Michigan that has been in the title of a novelty song or two in the first half of the 20th century.

    Hope your next Great American Novel quest is a bit more to your liking!

    • Yeah, we’ve kind of adopted ‘double-whammy’ over here now too – all kinds of Americanisms are creeping into the language, but sadly not many of the ones Richard Ford uses! 😉 Yes, I like literary fiction to have a story – I’m not at all keen on these ones that are just long descriptions of how it is to live in a particular time and place. Maybe some of his other stuff has actual plots, but this one seemed to me to be going nowhere, and going there very slowly!

      Aha! Couldn’t work out ‘Goucher girl’ at all – thank you! I guessed millage had something to do with property – he used a lot of property market terms and unfortunately our jargon over here is quite different. His cultural references really annoyed me, especially as the point was he was mocking an immigrant who didn’t ‘get’ them – and of course neither did I! I kept hoping the immigrant might kick him for me… 😉

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