The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

The Lay of the Land – Richard Ford

Book Review of The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford

The Lay of the Land is the third novel in which Richard Ford charts the life of Frank Bascombe. Frank is now in his fifties, and is a realtor (an estate agent) on the coast of New Jersey. He is in his second marriage and in the throes of what he calls the “Permanent Period”, that stage of life where most things that can go wrong have already gone wrong, and where generally speaking things don’t get messed up any more – at least in the catastrophic way that earlier stages are subject too.

Needless to say, the Permanent Period turns out to be no protection from family squalls and rifts, and even second marriages, seemingly so settled can go badly and unexpectedly wrong. And then there’s always prostate cancer, to make sure that Frank has to make adjustments to those areas of his life so far unaffected.

The charm of this novel, like its predecessors, is that nothing much happens. Frank is allowed to tell his story in his usual meandering way. A trip into town can give rise to pages of observations and reflections, somewhat in the way of W G Sebald, or even Marcel Proust.

What makes this work is that Frank has a wondrously philosophical attitude to life, not one that insulates him from problems, but one which enables him to interpret them and live through them in an almost Buddhist way, where trouble is rarely confronted full on, but rather side-stepped and averted by Frank’s huge tolerance and patience.

The reader finds him/herself drifting along with Frank, and can find himself saying, hey, this approach might work with me too, if only I wasn’t so uptight and frantic. Richard Ford has cast Frank’s real-estate assistant as a Tibetan Buddhist immigrant, called (unusually) Mike Mahoney. It is interesting to see as the book develops, that maybe Frank is the better Buddhist than this disciple of the Dalai Llama.

Frank is a completely believable character, and although the book only covers a period of a few days, it is full of incidents that show how Frank deals with his family and friends.

By the end, readers will have learned a lot about what makes him tick, and maybe like me, they will think that Frank may be quite a good guy to know, and maybe they could learn something about dealing with the huge amounts of stuff that has to be dealt with in the course of a fairly routine life. Highly recommended – if you like this kind of thing, and I do.