Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dear Mr Ford

Sigh. Let's talk about Frank, Mr Ford. I know you're probably a little bored of old Frank nowadays. He's safely and tidily finished with now that Lay of the Land is well and truly out there in the world. But I need to talk about him a little more, if you don't mind.

It's that I still don't understand him. He feels like a lie. A good lie, the kind of lie that reveals a selection of greater truths but a lie all the same. At the worst moments I suspect him of being an intellectual exercise on your part, a character so three dimensional and so true that you almost fool your readers into knowing him. Only then he isn't true because despite your skill your own knowledge of his fictionality is blended through every word he says. Nothing wrong with that obviously, he is a fictional character. It is this though, this blurring of that dividing line that makes him so problematic to me.

I first met Frank in a second year university literature course. We were reading Independence Day and, with only one exception, the entire class hated that book. It was endless, boring, exhausting, impenetrable, middle-aged. We came to agree that perhaps as older readers we may understand him better but that now, now in our youth his musings on life, parenthood, the best way to be a person were too alien, too well developed, too much our parents.

It is to your credit that none of us stopped abusing the character long enough to think that in our round dismissal of Frank and his endless positing of truth and confusion we had already bought him as true. The craft of the writing itself simply slid this man into our lives as real enough to be argued about as a person, a character whose opinions and thoughts were whole apart from those of the writer.

Only now I wonder, having moved on and grown up and read The Sportswriter and Lay of the Land and many of your short stories and seen you speak on the publishing tour for Lay of the Land (in Wellington, New Zealand, you were very intriguing, if different to what I expected) now I wonder if perhaps my problem with Frank isn't his truth but is in his fundamental falseness. I wonder, does he make me uncomfortable because he is so perfect a creature of the craft that he is eerie? Like a mannequin in a half light.

I also wonder about some of his emotional responses. I wonder at thier being so very different from my own. He is not of the universal, is Frank. He is himself. Worrying Mr Ford. Worrying and intriguing and irritating and very very clever.

So. My annoyance at these books does not set aside for one moment the fact that I should thank you for them. Hours of happily irritated thought are not to be sneezed at. Arm waving argument and the strong desire to thrust these books upon the different people I know to find out what they think in order to find out if what I think is what I think. Thank you for that.

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