Ask a Book Question: The 40th in a Series (The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford)

July 24, 2005 | 3 books mentioned 3 min read

Dee writes in with this question:

Do you know when Richard Ford’s sequel to Independence Day will be published?

Richard Ford’s Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award winning Independence Day from 1995 revisits Frank Bascombe, who Ford first introduced to readers as The Sportswriter in 1986. In the novels, Ford plumbs the angst of the 1980s and 90s through the everyman character Bascombe. A third book in the series would likely place Bascombe in the current decade. I’m sure the Bascombe followers out there would like to see how he is faring.

As Dee suggests, Ford is indeed working on a third Bascombe novel, to be called The Lay of the Land, and while I could find no indication that he has completed it, he has been reading from the unfinished book at readings over the last couple of years. In fact, attendees of Ford’s reading tour in the UK in fall, 2004, received a bound excerpt of the new book. As for the actual release date, I don’t think they’ve set one yet, but I did spot a note on one British Web site (see the box labeled “Also of interest”) that seemed to indicate the book will be out some time in 2006, but I couldn’t confirm it. He briefly touched on the new book in a 2002 interview with Robert Birnbaum of identity theory:

Birnbaum: You leave it all on the playing field…

Ford: Yes. That’s kind of how I go about doing it. I get to that frame of mind perhaps a with little more difficulty. But I’m working on the 3rd Frank Bascombe [The Sportswriter, Independence Day] book…Once I finish that…

Birnbaum: I thought you said you weren’t going to do that?

Ford: No I said…

Birnbaum: I’m kidding, I’m kidding..

Ford: I hope I didn’t say that. I might have said it. I do a lot of things to remind myself of how serious projects need to be to do them.

Birnbaum: So you are working on the next Frank Bascombe novel?

Ford: Yes and I will be working on it. There are moments when I feel like I can really do it. There are moments when I feel like…yesterday was a bad day. You find out things, people don’t like your book, you think to yourself, “I don’t know how I can spend the next three years writing a book when I feel so shitty about this now?” But being a novelist, it is important to average your days. It’s like Olympic diving. You throw out the high score and the low score. I threw out the low score yesterday…

Another interview from 2002, with Dave Weich of Powells.com, offers more details:

Ford: When I began this third book called The Lay of the Land, I asked, What could I make Frank be next? And I finally decided that he can be a realtor. It seemed to me to be both plausible and to give rise to new speculative developments of his character. Obviously you can’t have him go back and do the same kinds of things – he has to have a whole different orientation to life, which is not difficult to do, really – but it wasn’t broke in the last book, so I think I don’t have to fix that.

Dave: What’s the motivation for going back to his character rather than starting fresh with someone else?

Ford: To write about Frank again is truly one of the pleasurable things I’ve gotten out of writing – that is to say, palpably pleasurable – so I’m writing about Frank as a gift to myself. I think it would be fun to write about him again and to see what my imagination can turn up for him. Who knows? Maybe I can’t do it. It’s always a possibility. Because you can write two doesn’t guarantee that you can write three. If I can’t, that’ll be okay.

Dave: Will Frank be in New Jersey again?

Ford: On the shore this time. Married, I think. Have left Haddam. This is much more involved with his daughter, Clarissa. Taking place on Thanksgiving in the year 2000.

Dave: A holiday again.

Ford: I gotta do holidays. They offer me so much. In particular, for me and the reader, a whole set of associations. If you write about Easter, if you write about the Fourth of July, something as important, almost invisibly important, as the temporal setting of a book…if the reader can say, “Gee, that’s a time I know. I have a whole set of memories and associations to bring to bear on whatever’s happening then,” you’ve got a lot going for you.

It may still be a while yet, before we read it, though. According to this post at TEV, by summer of 2004, Ford had “completed 380 typed pages – ‘about half’ – of The Lay of The Land.” And an interview from February of this year has Ford saying, “I’m well past the middle of it, the last fifth of it probably.”

Update: In the comments, Stephan notes that an excerpt from the novel appeared in the New Yorker a few months ago. You can read it here.

Update 2: Lay of the Land will be released on October 24, 2006.

created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He and his family live in New Jersey. If you'd like to correspond, please don't hesitate to email.

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