Summary and book reviews of The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

The Lay of the Land

By Richard Ford

The Lay of the Land
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2006,
    496 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2007,
    496 pages.

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Book Summary

With The Sportswriter, in 1986, Richard Ford commenced a cycle of novels that ten years later—after Independence Day won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award—was hailed by The Times of London as “an extraordinary epic [that] is nothing less than the story of the twentieth century itself.” Now, a decade later, Frank Bascombe returns, with a new lease on life (and real estate), more acutely in thrall to life’s endless complexities than ever before.

His story resumes in the autumn of 2000, when his trade as a realtor on the Jersey Shore is thriving, permitting him to revel in the acceptance of “that long, stretching-out time when my dreams would have mystery like any ordinary person’s; when whatever I do or say, who I marry, how my kids turn out, becomes what the world—if it makes note at all—knows of me, how I’m seen, understood, even how I think of myself before whatever there is that’s wild and unassuagable rises and cheerlessly hauls me off to oblivion.” But as a Presidential election hangs in the balance, and a postnuclear-family Thanksgiving looms before him along with crises both marital and medical, Frank discovers that what he terms the Permanent Period is fraught with unforeseen perils: “All the ways that life feels like life at age fifty-five were strewn around me like poppies.”

A holiday, and a novel, no reader will ever forget—at once hilarious, harrowing, surprising, and profound. The Lay of the Land is astonishing in its own right and a magnificent expansion of one of the most celebrated chronicles of our time.

Part 1

Toms River, across the Barnegat Bay, teems out ahead of me in the blustery winds and under the high autumnal sun of an American Thanksgiving Tuesday. From the bridge over from Sea-Clift, sunlight diamonds the water below the girdering grid. The white-capped bay surface reveals, at a distance, only a single wet-suited jet-skier plowing and bucking along, clinging to his devil machine as it plunges, wave into steely wave. “Wet and chilly, bad for the willy,” we sang in Sigma Chi, “Dry and warm, big as a baby’s arm.” I take a backward look to see if the NEW JERSEY'S BEST KEPT SECRET sign has survived the tourist season—now over. Each summer, the barrier island on which Sea-Clift sits at almost the southern tip hosts six thousand visitors per linear mile, many geared up for sun ’n fun vandalism and pranksterish grand theft. The sign, which our Realty Roundtable paid for when I was chairman, has regularly ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are meant to enliven your group's discussion of Richard Ford's abundant, funny, sorrowful, and miraculously observed new novel, The Lay of the Land.


About This Book
In The Lay of the Land, the author reintroduces readers to Frank Bascombe, the protagonist of his earlier novels The Sportswriter and the Pulitzer Prize–winning Independence Day. He is a man of mild aspect and strong, sometimes violent feelings, capable of kindnesses both diligent and spontaneous but also of flashes of cruelty and contempt. A native Southerner transplanted to Michigan, the New Jersey suburbs, and lately the beach town of Sea-Clift (...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Some might ask what the attraction could be in reading about a divorced, middle-aged real-estate agent living in suburban America. The answer is, as always, that it's not what you write about but the way you write it. Ford's strength is in finding epiphanies in the ordinary events of everyday life and in the unexpected emergencies that poor old Frank must inevitably face.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New York Time - A. O. Scott

The novel’s lovely last sentence evokes "our human scale upon the land," and that touch of grandiloquence is well earned. By now, we have gotten to know Frank Bascombe well enough to take his measure, and to appreciate that, like almost no one else in our recent literature, he’s life-size.

The Washington Post - Jeff Turrentine

[Frank Bascombe] has become our unlikely Virgil, guiding us through the modern American purgatory of big-box stores along frontage roads, slowly decaying town squares and leafy, secret-harboring suburbs. He's there to remind us that glimmering meaning is hiding everywhere, even in the ugliest or most banal of places.

The Boston Globe - Gail Caldwell

With its profound and full-hearted perception . . . the voice is everything in The Lay of the Land, and it insinuates itself into the reader's consciousness with the sneaky intractability of marriage . . . Eloquently poised between the points of beauty and sorrow [and] so rich--so filled with insight, humor, and stylistic grace--that I didn't want this long and winding trail to end.

Library Journal

Ford manages to become his character and remove authorial boundaries, transforming his novel into a story told to us by an old friend.

Kirkus Reviews

Though not as consistently compelling as Independence Day (too many chickens coming home to roost), this reaffirms that Frank Bascombe is for Ford what Rabbit Angstrom is for Updike.

Booklist - Joanne Wilkinson

Starred Review. Ford crafts a mesmerizing narrative voice--one that gives us, with offhanded eloquence and a kind of grim mirth, "the lay of the land."

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ford summons a remarkable voice for his protagonist—ruminant, jaunty, merciless, generous and painfully observant—building a dense narrative from Frank's improvisations, epiphanies and revisions.

The Observer (London) - John Banville

Over the past two decades, Richard Ford has been forging a new way of writing fiction about, and out of, American life that is as revolutionary as Proust's adventures in time travel. Ford is a superb short-story writer, but his masterpiece is the trilogy of novels with Frank Bascombe as their protagonist. Now the great arch is complete by The Lay of the Land, a marvelously subtle, moving and funny account of Frank's present and, it may be, terminal predicament: still selling real estate, still divorced, still abandoned by his second wife, struggling to understand his offspring and suffering from prostate cancer.

The Guardian (London) - Hermione Lee

My great book of the year was Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land, his Ulysses, a long, painstakingly attentive, humanely comical celebration of the mid-life of his New Jersey real-estate salesman, Frank Bascombe, an American citizen at odds with, and at home in, America, whose story, so wonderfully written in every breath of every sentence, will teach you how to lead a well-examined life 'on the human scale'—and how to leave it.

Financial Times - Jeremy Treglown

One of the many triumphs of Ford's latest novel lies in the paradoxes of what Frank ironically calls the Permanent Period: the overlaps between acceptance and denial and the ways by which hard-won resilience can come to the fore . . . The book vividly communicates the underlying pressures of American provincial life, and of its time, [and its] sense of pace--almost imperceptibly gentle declarations ruptured by startling shifts of gear--is unmatched.

Reader Reviews
a retired librarian

Frank Bascomb is the most humane character I have encountered in a long time.
The Lay of the Land is a fabulous book - funny, human, real. The characters are multi-faceted and knowable. Frank's humanity is so appealing, his daily dealing with his cancer so recognizable and heart-breaking, his relationships with his ...   Read More

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Did you know?
In a recent interview in the Cal Literary Review Ford was asked whether he purposefully set out to portray suburban America in a positive light? To which he replied, "Yes. Originally, my wife said to me, try to write about somebody who’s happy. That was my first suggestion. After she said that, I began to think about, well, where could I set a book about somebody who was happy? We were in New Jersey, I was teaching at Princeton then. I thought, well, nobody writes happy things about New Jersey. Nobody writes good things about New Jersey at all. And I thought, well, maybe that would be the thing to do. Write a novel that is affirming about New Jersey because, certainly it would be unusual. And frankly...

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