“Be Mine” is a novel about finding contentment with age and dealing with loss. Richard Ford is one of my favorite authors, and his ability to address the struggles of life in a matter of fact and sometimes amusing way is on display in this sometimes uncomfortable and yet reassuring novel.
The novel begins with a chapter entitled “Happiness”. “Lately, I’ve begun to think about happiness…To be happy—before the gray curtain comes down. Or at least to consider why you’re not, if you’re not. And whether it’s worth the bother to worry about…It is worth worrying about—although I’m certain of little else…But to go out the door…and not bother with being happy is to give life less than its full due. Which after all is what we’re here for…Or am I wrong?”
Frank Bascombe, the semi-retired real estate agent and prior sports writer, at age 74, is struggling with these questions. And his struggle comes in the form of caring for his 37 year old son, Paul, recently diagnosed with ALS. Paul and Frank have traveled to Minnesota, from Haddam, New Jersey, so that Paul can receive experimental treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
Paul is a unique character and his relationship with his father feels tortured and yet genuine and heartfelt. “For all of life, our father-son discourse has been encoded and elliptical—sustained, on-topic converse being simply not our way. Sometimes to the point of silence.”
Frank also has a daughter, Clarissa, who lives in Scottsdale and runs a boarding and grooming kennel. She does not think much of her father and their relationship is fraught. “My daughter can churn up deranging effects in me. I don’t much like her, if truth were told.” Clarissa does not approve of Frank’s efforts to take care of Paul and thinks that Paul should stay with her and her wife in Scottsdale.
While Paul is receiving treatments at the Mayo Clinic, Frank busies himself with his care and with other entertainments, including the very young masseuse Betty. In the meantime, Frank is planning a RV trip with Paul to Mt Rushmore. He rents an out of date, unusable old camper attached to a Dodge 1500 with Florida plates, because this is what Paul chooses.
The last step in Paul’s care at the Mayo Clinic is an appreciation event. The descriptions of the Mayo Clinic, and the staff at the Mayo Clinic feel like something out of a futuristic dystopia. “Gonda Atrium is a lofty, buzzing, light-shot Scandinavian fishbowl…Over in front of the great window…a barbershop group of red-jacketed oldsters crooning “Edelweiss” and “Sunrise, Sunset”…Wide corridors lead unceasing foot traffic in all directions…”.
Ultimately Paul and Frank make it to Mt. Rushmore, and despite all the difficulties, the trip is a success. Throughout the novel, Frank is meeting new people and remembering the life he has led to this point. Ultimately, Frank and Paul do end up with Clarissa in Scottsdale and that is where Paul’s life ends. Frank concludes that “It isn’t life that’s well-nigh unfathomable and in need of amplification and more light…its death that’s the profound mystery and the real story.” The novel ends with a final chapter on Happiness.
Although Frank Bascombe is trying to come to terms with aging, happiness and death, and he is trying to convince himself that he has done just that, I believe he has failed. That said, I believe he has come to terms with understanding that these are all things that he cannot exactly control and that for the short time we all have, we should continue to seek and hopefully find, if not happiness, contentment. Be Mine can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on https://discover.cuyahogalibrary.org/Record/202423