Monday, July 17, 2006

Frank Bascombe, meet Binx Bolling

There is a terrific article by Gordon Burn in The Guardian about the echoes of Walker Percy's The Moviegoer in Richard Ford's The Sportswriter.

I love both novels: in this post (on Independence Day 2006) I praised Richard Ford's Independence Day, the sequel to The Sportswriter, and in this post (on Mardi Gras 2006) I claimed that The Moviegoer was the best Louisiana novel (even if it's not "The Great Louisiana Novel"). And then there's my email address.

But I'd never twigged to the similarities between the two novels. And they are considerable. Burn writes:
"My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter," [The Sportswriter] begins. "Without knowing I had a natural calling I ... hit on the perfect one: to sit in the empty stands of a Florida ball park and hear the sounds of glove leather and chatter; talk to coaches and equipment managers in the gusty autumn winds ... to bone up on the relevant stats, then go home or back to the office, sit down at my desk and write about it. What could be better, I thought, and still think?"
And in The Moviegoer we read:
"I am a stock and bond broker ... Once I dreamed of going into law or medicine or even pure science. I even dreamed of doing something great. But there is much to be said for giving up such grand ambitions and living the most ordinary life imaginable, a life without the old longings; selling stocks and bonds; quitting work at five o'clock like everyone else; having a girl and perhaps raising a flock of Marcias and Sandras and Lindas ... Nor is the brokerage business as uninteresting as you might think. It is not a bad life at all."
Burn notes that there are many examples of Frank speaking like Binx, and there are multiple "coincidences in plotting."

Burn doesn't suggest the similarities are anything like plagiarism, and neither do I. I'd say it's more like an homage, though Ford, while noting the influence of Percy as well as other writers, apparently never explicitly intended any such salute.

Click here to read Gordon Burn's article.

--Marshal Zeringue