It seems a rather optimistic and extreme move to make — downright ballsy, as a matter of fact — but I’m going to go ahead and pick the protagonist of the book I’m currently reading as my favorite literary character. Is it because I’m positive he’s the ultimate, be-all, end-all character, filled with nuances and quirks and thoughts that none I’ve encountered before has possessed? No. But after just a few minutes of bandying about Holden Caulfield versus various Martin Amis dark and sardonic guys versus several classic Jane Austen heroines, I realized that what I’m being asked to do here is something akin to Sophie’s Choice so I may as well just cling to what’s closest.
And so, by default, the honor goes to you, Frank Bascombe. And he is by no means undeserving. I don’t tend to be a fan of simple, direct writing — never got the Hemingway thing, for instance — so I was a bit concerned when Frank introduced himself with, “My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.” The friend who recommended Richard Ford to me first raved about his writing, then stopped and worried that she’d raved too much since he’s “such a male writer.” I swore that, much to my own shame, I’m such a male writer reader, and she, relieved, continued her rave and then explained the exact order I should read the Ford books in.
Then, last week, when I was in New York and walking down the street on a downright balmy night, I saw The Sportswriter for sale on one of those tables where people seem to be selling all their earthly goods. I woke up the guy next to the table, handed him my $3, and went back to my hotel for a bubble bath and, I figured, a few pages of a book that I probably wouldn’t like and was surely reading out of order (I can’t recall the order she gave me, but I feel certain I’m doing it wrong). But then, within the first 10 pages, I was crying. Frank and his ex-wife — the simply named X — are visiting their son’s grave on his birthday and there’s no overt attempt to tug at the heartstrings, which is perhaps why it seemed so sad. Just two people dealing with tragic circumstances, not at all sure what to say and feel, and simply attempting to not do or say anything horribly wrong.
What I love about this character is that he’s aware of everything — nothing seems to pass by him without him being painfully, shockingly aware of it — and yet he refuses to surrender to depression. He does this by, he explains, being dreamy, which he summarizes like this: “Dreaminess is, among other things, a state of suspended recognition, and a response to too much useless and complicated factuality.” Ahhh — dreaminess…something I could use far more of in my mind. You know those people that never seem to let their circumstances get them too down? They always have this dreaminess to them — this sense that nothing about life is too painful because they’re floating just above everything, none too fixated on anything but the most basic experiences that will bring them pleasure. (There’s another term for this state of being: “in denial.”) And, well, what I love about Frank is that he’s aware of everything and making a conscious choice not to be as a way of coping with circumstances too painful to process.
Denial? Dreaminess? Are they the same thing? What do you think?