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Home Culture Richard Ford, writer: “I’m a novelist, older white man, but I’m not going to defend everyone. To Updike and Cheever, yes” | Culture

Richard Ford, writer: “I’m a novelist, older white man, but I’m not going to defend everyone. To Updike and Cheever, yes” | Culture

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Visiting Spain to present his latest novel, Be mine (Anagrama), the writer Richard Ford (Jackson, Mississippi, 80 years old) receives in a room at the Wellington Hotel in Madrid. A southern gentleman, if such a thing still existed, the author retains a soft edge to his accent and that characteristic elegance, which this morning translates into a bright green shirt, conveniently faded. Princess of Asturias Award in 2016, Ford is a declared enthusiast of Spain, and at one point in the conversation he says that he and his wife, with whom he has been married since 1968, have just sold their house in New Orleans and he would not mind move to Asturias, although she is not so supportive.

Buying and selling houses, that’s what Frank Bascombe, the legendary Ford character who came with The sports journalist in 1986, earned him a Pulitzer in the middle of the following decade with the following installment, Independence Dayand to whom he now says goodbye in Be minethe fifth book that Bascombe stars in.

Ford starts the conversation right there, finishing off his character, but not his literary task. He announces that he has been immersed in a new book for seven months, completely removed from the voice of Bascombe, that neighbor from a suburb, a frustrated novelist, who left sports journalism to become a real estate agent, twice divorced and whose peculiar gaze has traveled across the United States. of the last four decades. “That voice is over,” he says. Maybe he will come back, because how can he be so sure? “Yes I am. “When you’re 80 you discover things you didn’t know before.” For example? “Well, you’re going to die,” he says, and bursts out laughing.

Death is a central theme in Be mine. Bascombe fulfills his first wife’s wishes to spread part of her ashes at the place where they spent their family vacation and receives a call from her daughter, with whom he does not have much of a relationship. She informs him that his brother, Bascombe’s son, Paul, has ALS. The novel narrates that time in which the father takes care of his sick son and the trip they undertake together to Mount Rushmore.

Ask. In Be mine Frank questions the idea of ​​happiness, that right to be happy that seems so ingrained in American culture.

Answer. The Declaration of Independence itself guarantees us the pursuit of happiness. It is in the American mentality that we must be able to achieve it. I wanted to open that conversation in the novel, but it’s not that I necessarily go against that. Personally, I think it is something we should aspire to, I am not willing to give it up. But there is something very Protestant about thinking that you are happy because you have created the happiness in which you live. From the outside, another person may see you as unfortunate. The novel presents a very unhappy situation, a man who sees his son dying.

P. Bascombe mentions Heidegger repeatedly. Does the philosopher fly over the book?

R. I was reading his work and it left me perplexed. Heidegger considers that reflecting on our presence in the world is something valuable, it drives an interesting conversation with yourself and with the environment that surrounds you. I found it interesting. And he also wanted to put him in the book because he’s a poisonous Nazi, and he wanted there to be someone in the story who is very questionable in one way, but not in all.

P. Because?

R. Because today it is considered that if you make a mistake you are cancelled. Heidegger has been canceled many times and I wanted to somehow show that, even if he was a Nazi and an anti-Semite who deserves scorn, there is a small part of him that can be useful to us.

P. In the novel there is another puddle that it does not avoid: Bascombe goes to a massage center and establishes a peculiar relationship with a young woman of Vietnamese origin.

R. Yes, it’s just what I wanted.

P. There is no mention of MeToo, which at the time in which the novel takes place was in full swing.

R. I wasn’t interested in putting it in the book. As a human being, it does interest me moderately, given that I have lived with the same woman for 60 years and I have seen how she has achieved everything she has set out to do. Someone described that part of the book on the massage site as embarrassing. That’s precisely what I wanted when I wrote it. It was fun to do; I didn’t want it to be libidinous or overtly sexual. I didn’t want her to be a sex worker, but exactly what she is: a young woman who is trying to make her way and finish college.

P. This story with the young woman leads Frank to reflect on “unclassified affections.” Is there little room for this today?

R. I’m too old to know or care. The difficulties people have in classifying and declassifying the affections they feel for others mostly affect a generation after mine. But that desire, will, urgency, need and compulsion to classify everything seems contrary to life to me.

Richard Ford puts on his shirt.Jaime Villanueva

P. In Be mine mentions the generation that preceded him, specifically John Cheever and John Updike, two authors who played a central role in 20th century American literature.

R. And in my life. I didn’t know Cheever, but I knew John Updike quite well. Their work meant a lot to me, they were the first, after Faulkner, that I read enthusiastically, because they wrote about a piece of the world in which I was living. The suburbs could be used to create literature. I liked Updike more as a novelist than as a short story writer.

P. Are you surprised that these writers have become marginalized?

R. I find it amazing. Yours is a great work, I don’t care that it was written by white men, get over it, because in those pages there is a lot to learn and enjoy. The power of imagination is in your books, who wrote them, gender or race… It’s easy for me to say this, I am an older white man and I am going to defend them, but I do not defend all the older white men who have written novels: those two deserve to endure. Same as Carver, a great friend.

P. In the book Frank says that to succeed in business you have to identify a market. Also in literature?

R. I don’t think so, there is no literary formula. I have tried to write about important things that I know and I have tried to make it fun and serious at the same time. That’s not a trend.

P. In Be mine suggests that rather than thinking about why we do something, we should reflect on why we don’t do it.

R. It may sound philosophical, but for me it was more of a play on words, we novelists often start out like this. Joseph Campbell, an African-American guy who worked with me and who came from the plantations, when you asked him, for example, if he thought his car would last another month, he would answer ‘that could be true.’ With him I realized that this is the answer I’m always thinking about.

P. The issue of medical bills does not appear in the book.

R. That’s the kind of trick a novelist indulges in, you divert the focus of attention. But the truth is that the type of medical trial Paul is on is free and he has money that he inherited from his mother and his grandfather.

P. At 77 years old, Bascombe would initially be closer to death, but it is his son in his early 40s who is dying. Was this a good narrative tool?

R. I came to this in a linear way. I started hearing about cases of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and thought it would be interesting to write about this. I thought of Paul. Then Frank is also close to death simply because he is getting older. All this allowed me to talk about death from two points of view.

P. What is more difficult to write about death or sex?

R. With death its importance is never questioned. When writing about sex, one of the most difficult things is not to make it erotic, but to make it important. Because it can be perfectly forgettable or something you regret, it can be a thousand things, but for it to be worth describing it must be important.

P. Are parents generally as clear-eyed about their children as Frank is about Paul?

R. Frank sees him as a misfit, someone who has never graduated to adulthood, who is unattractive but who is his son. I believe that parents are not blind, although sometimes they do not admit to seeing their children that clearly. You do your best to raise them and sometimes they are horrible, but you love them even if you don’t like them that much. When I was a child I behaved terribly and one day I saw my mother run away. That day I understood that she drove her crazy.

P. In the novel, father and son travel by car to Mount Rushmore. What does that place where the faces of four presidents are mean?

R. It’s a potent cliché of American history and freedom and our perfect past, which, of course, we all know is very imperfect. I once visited Rushmore and there was Donald Trump, probably thinking about the real estate market opportunities on that mountain. I enjoy using these great American symbols and seeing if I can say something new in the novel. Paul is in a wheelchair, looks at the mountain and thinks ‘that’s cool because it’s so horrendous’.

P. In a brief paragraph Bascombe describes the history of the last 24 years in the United States, from 9/11 onwards.

R. I wanted to subordinate those events, remove them from the center, but recognize that they were there.

P. Like background noise?

R. Or not. We all live in the outcome of historical events, but our goal is not to be delimited by it, not to be victims of history or what we remember. That old phrase that ‘those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it’, when I hear it I feel like saying exactly the opposite.

Ford interrupts his response. He takes out a beautiful notebook from his jacket pocket — “I gave it to myself this week” —. He wants to read a phrase that he wrote down a few hours ago when he was thinking about the new novel. “It’s about a campus in Indiana and the line is, ‘Who cares what happened 100 years ago?’ That’s how you make up a story. And each truth is supplanted in the next novel.” Ford, although not without Bascombe, still has a lot to tell.

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