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The Lay of the Land (Vintage Contemporaries)


The Lay of the Land (Vintage Contemporaries) Cover



Reading Group Guide


National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

A New York Times Best Book of the Year

“Ford once again shows why he deserves to be hailed as one of the great American fiction novelists of his generation.”

—The Washington Post Book World

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are meant to enliven your groups discussion of Richard Fords abundant, funny, sorrowful, and miraculously observed new novel, The Lay of the Land.

Product Details

Ford, Richard
Vintage Books USA
Ford, Richard
Real estate agents
Divorced men
New jersey
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage Contemporaries
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8 x 5.15 x 1.05 in 0.8 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

The Lay of the Land (Vintage Contemporaries) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 496 pages Random House - English 9780679776673 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Richard Ford's anti-hero Frank Bascombe has returned, middle-aged, possibly wiser, more cynical, and heading into a Thanksgiving season without his wife, but with other family members that he might not want to see. Ford is a great writer; in The Lay of the Land, he shows us that acceptance is a good quality to have while giving us the realities of life with sly, deadpan humor.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Frank Bascombe meticulously maps New Jersey with a realtor's rapacious eye, and he is an equally intense topographer of his teeming inner landscape. In the first of Ford's magisterial Bascombe novels (The Sportswriter, 1986), Frank staved off feelings of loss and regret with a dissociated 'dreaminess.' He graduated to a more conventional detachment during what he calls the 'Existence Period' of the Pen/Faulkner and Pulitzer Prize–winning Independence Day (1995). Now we find the 55-year-old former fiction writer and sports journalist in a 'Permanent Period,' a time of being, not becoming. He's long adjusted to the dissolution of his first marriage to women's golf instructor Ann Dykstra (which foundered 17 years earlier after the death of their nine-year-old, firstborn son, Ralph) and settled for eight years with second wife Sally Caldwell in Sea-Clift, N.J. Permanence has proven turbulent: Sally has abandoned Frank for her thought-to-be-dead first husband, and Frank's undergone treatment for prostate cancer. The novel's action unfolds in 2000 over the week before Thanksgiving, as Frank bemoans the contested election, mourns the imminent departure of Clinton ('My President,' he says) and anticipates with measured ambivalence the impending holiday meal: his guests will include his 27-year-old son, Paul, a once-troubled adolescent grown into an abrasive 'mainstreamer,' who writes for Hallmark in Kansas City, Mo., and his 25-year-old daughter, Clarissa, a glamorous bisexual Harvard grad who's unfailingly loyal to her dad. Frank's quotidian routines are punctuated by weird but subtly depicted events: he happens on the scene of a bombing at the hospital in his former hometown of Haddam, N.J., clenches his jaw through an awkward meeting with Ann, provokes a bar fight and observes the demolition of an old building. But the real dramatic arc occurs in Frank's emotional life — until the climax takes him out of his head. 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. His reluctance to 'fully occupy' his real estate career ('it's really about arriving and destinations, and all the prospects that await you or might await you in some place you never thought about') illuminates the preoccupations of the boomer generation; for Frank, an unwritten novel and broken relationships combine with the dwindling fantasy of endless possibility — in work and in love — to breed doubt: 'Is this it?' and 'Am I good?' Frank wonders. The answers don't come easy." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "When publishers, with heavy heart, stamp 'literary fiction' on books nowadays, they generally mean to brand them as serious in intent, not hitching a lift on genre or journalistic trends. The Lay of the Land is literary in that it is an entirely linguistic edifice. What happens? Frank's consciousness happens. Unlike his short stories, which found 'success' only when sold to Hollywood back in the 1960s, it is practically screenproof." (read the entire TLS review)
"Review A Day" by , "The Lay of the Land is longer and weaker than both [The Sportswriter and Independence Day]. This isn't to say that Ford is not one hell of a writer; he is. Master of a smooth and seamless American vernacular, funny as hell, he's always a good read. But sentence for sentence or pound for pound, a slugging middleweight is still a middleweight, and by the end of Lay, Ford's a buckle-kneed, arm-weary middleweight clinching and waiting for the bell." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "The third and most eventful novel in the Frank Bascombe series....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."
"Review" by , "Ford manages to become his character and remove authorial boundaries, transforming his novel into a story told to us by an old friend. A fitting way to complete the Frank Bascombe legacy."
"Review" by , "[I]t's a pleasure to see what [Frank's] been up to, and fall back into his dreamy, remarkable voice....[B]ut in Lay for the first time it feels as if Ford tries to make up for the long swatches of inaction by throwing in a lot of hard-to-believe intrigue. (Grade: B-)"
"Review" by , "Lay of the Land...is distinct not only for its singular style but also for its generosity. Ford shows that life is never easy and never placid. We will fight and flail, love and lose. Yet we keep moving forward for that occasional moment of pure understanding."
"Review" by , "[O]ne of its pleasures is the reminder that Ford can do conversation — not just straightforward, revelatory dialogue, but the shorthand, crusty, idiomatic way that guys, particularly business guys, talk to one another."
"Review" by , "Where The Lay of the Land excels is when Ford draws us out of Frank's head and into the world....Yet even this is not enough to sustain the novel....The Lay of the Land hints that there must be more to the story, but it never quite connects with what that is."
"Review" by , "By turns hilarious and sad, The Lay of the Land is a fitting end piece...but for those who have been following Frank's peregrinations since 1986, it's not without regret that we watch him shuffle off....It will be a while before we see his like in fiction again."
"Review" by , "[T]here are some wonderful, deeply moving passages...buried beneath pages and pages of self-indulgent self-analysis and random ruminations...not the makings of a fitting follow-up to The Sportswriter and Independence Day, only the stale ingredients of an unnecessary and by-the-numbers sequel."
"Review" by , "[A] big, glorious, messy evocation of a life lived, if not always to its fullest, at least as best as it can be under the circumstances."
"Review" by , "Ford has crafted a near-perfect vernacular for Frank, one that manages to make him simultaneously opaque and transparent."
"Review" by , "There is plenty of comedy, of a low-key, whimsical kind, and the usual assortment of odd characters"

National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

A New York Times Best Book of the Year

A sportswriter and a real estate agent, husband and father -Frank Bascombe has been many things to many people. His uncertain youth behind him, we follow him through three days during the autumn of 2000, when his trade as a realtor on the Jersey Shore is thriving. But as a presidential election hangs in the balance, and a postnuclear-family Thanksgiving looms before him, Frank discovers that what he terms “the Permanent Period” is fraught with unforeseen perils. An astonishing meditation on America today and filled with brilliant insights, The Lay of the Land is a magnificent achievement from one of the most celebrated chroniclers of our time.

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