A Multitude of Sins Essay - Critical Essays

A Multitude of Sins

To avid readers of short fiction, Richard Ford’s name has been a familiar one in such upscale publications as The New Yorker. At his best, his evocative prose excavates behind the facade of comfortable, middle-class life in order to enchant and disturb his readers. The chief advantage of a collection of such tales—quite apart from enjoying a favorite story in a more permanent medium—is the fact that it allows one to find a common theme.

As the cliched title A Multitude of Sins implies, Ford’s book focuses upon his characters’ violations of society’s accepted code of conduct; the sins, if one can call them that, tend to be more venial than mortal. They range from a writer’s voyeuristic curiosity about his neighbor in “Privacy” to a spouse’s unexpected ire in “Under the radar.” One of the key elements in this volume is the common thread of infidelity, whether it is the potential unfaithfulness of the voyeur, a spouse’s affair from the past (“Puppy”), a liaison that happily ends by mutual consent (“Dominion”), or a romantic fling that leads to unexpected disaster (“Abyss”). Although the title suggests otherwise, Ford does not condemn his savvy, unwise characters; rather, he is content to explore the different shades of infidelity by individuals whose financial success is more than matched by the barren nature of their personal lives.

What makes this modest book such a delight to read is the high quality of Ford’s writing, whether he is describing the enchanting beauty of the natural world or charting the subtle shifts and turns of human relationships. One can easily pardon the sins of Ford’s characters and hope that he will continue to delight readers with their transgressions.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist 98 (December 15, 2001): 683.

Commonweal 129 (April 5, 2002): 30.

Library Journal 127 (February 1, 2002): 134.

New Statesman 14 (October 29, 2001): 57.

New York 35 (February 18, 2002): 172.

The New York Times Book Review 107 (March 3, 2002): 8.

Publishers Weekly 248 (December 17, 2001): 62.

The Spectator 287 (November 3, 2001): 57.

The Times Literary Supplement, September 28, 2001, p. 24.