Eric's Reviews > Independence Day

Independence Day by Richard Ford
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Oct 21, 10

Read in October, 2010

** spoiler alert ** Independence Day, written by Richard Ford, is a truly exceptional book that masterfully mimics a typical American’s lifestyle. In Independence Day, the main character, Frank Bascombe, is on a personal journey to discover his own identity after a painful divorce ended his previous marriage. Frank also faces the daunting task of trying to reconnect with his belligerent and mentally unstable son, Paul. Throughout the book, Richard Ford keeps readers hanging on the edge, by frustrating them through Frank’s failure to recognize a crucial message, or by satisfying them through Frank’s step forward in his journey towards self-realization. Ford also adeptly uses cause and effect relationships to effectively illustrate the consequences of Frank Bascombe’s numerous decisions. These elements, along with many others, allow us readers to empathize with Frank, and also provide us with an opportunity to examine and develop insights in our own lives as well.
One of Richard Ford’s most powerful elements is the exact pace he uses to steer the plot. The plot moves forward in a slow, yet relentless tempo as Frank Bascombe searches for a way fill the void in his son’s life and remedy their relationship, while searching for his own identity in his chaotic life as well. This mellow pace effectively shows Frank Bascombe’s reluctance to abandon his sheltered lifestyle and adopt a more decisive attitude, because he fears that another event can ruin his life a second time. This pace also makes the story tremendously powerful by providing a steady pulsation fast enough to keep the plot moving, yet broad in such a manner that the reader agonizes at each of Frank Bascombe’s missed opportunities, and rejoices at each of his accomplishments. Richard Ford’s prose is so versatile that he is able use the pace of the novel to represent a building excitement, sorrow, and even the normalcy of life throughout the novel. His mastery of this technique truly makes Independence Day an especially powerful work.
Another brilliant element is the plot’s ability to captivate readers. Set in the late 1900’s, Frank Bascombe is on a journey to discover his own identity while attempting to reconcile differences with his son during their travels to the Hall of Fame. Frank was seeking to fill a void in his life, which was caused by a divorce, the death of his first son, and the distance growing between him and his second son. He was able to distance himself from his anguish by living life (which he dubbed the “Existence Period”) according to certain rules, and by working as a realtor, where he would lose himself in market trends rather than worry about his own personal trauma. However he soon realizes that he is still unhappy, and strives to find the reason for his discontent. Frank slowly learns more and more about himself through contacts with other characters, and on the Fourth of July, Independence Day, he is finally able to understand himself, and knows how to correct his faults. In the process, he was able to connect with his seemingly mentally unstable son, and was also able to secure a future in his romantic life. He transforms from a reserved, self-preserving individual to a confident, caring individual.
This story is so powerful because it allows one to empathize closely with Frank Bascombe. We can relate to the disasters that befell Frank, but the numerous events, piled one on top of the other, that plagued him cause us to truly sympathize and connect with him. We are able to sense Frank’s pain, when he is uncertain whether his remaining son is mentally ill or not. We can understand why Frank is always so careful in his decisions. Everything is so realistic that we feel that this could have happened to any one of us. Thus, being able to see Frank Bascombe set off on this personal journey, and seeing him evolve into a confident figure is very satisfying. Part of the joy in reading the book lies in how the book ties in so closely with our lifestyle, and how it can be understood as a lesson against a reserved and conservative outlook on life. Richard Ford rekindles the spark of hope inside all of us in this magnificent book, Independence Day. It is absolutely breathtaking to see such a story unfold.
Although this book was exceptionally well written, it still has some minor flaws. Richard Ford tends to be somewhat repetitive in his messages, which could cause some readers to feel bored throughout the book. It also condensed a plethora of events and realizations into a four-day span, which made some sections extremely dense and difficult to understand. However, these elements did not affect the overall plot of the story, nor did it lessen the strength and clarity of the message it addresses. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in literature in general.
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