Richard Ford's 'The Sportswriter' is the first novel (the second being Independence Day - nothing to do with the film) about an American man, Frank Bascombe, undergoing a midlife crisis in smalltown New England. The protagonist is an ex-short story writer and novelist who has fallen into sportswriting as a way of life. The novel opens with him meeting with his ex-wife to pay their respects to their dead son. Weak but good-hearted, flawed but likeable, Bascombe is one of the great everyman heroes of American literature, on a par with Willy Loman and John Updike's Rabbit. His struggles to find a path through life and love are riveting and illuminating.
The book displays Ford as a stylist on a par with his contemporaries like Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Eudora Welty. Jonathan Raban put it better than I ever could, when reviewing Independence Day:
"Ford's mature prose style, with its long, sinuous, lavishly articulate sentences, is one of the glories of modern american writing."
It is beautifully written, full of wonderful insight into being alive, funny, and sad. It is unstintingly honest in its observation and unfailingly accurate in its examination of life. It is a masterpiece.