A Multitude of Sins

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Ever since the publication of his breakthrough novel The Sportswriter (1986), Richard Ford has confirmed his reputation as one of America’s foremost realist fiction writers. After The Sportswriter’s success, he went on to gain critical praise for his collection of Raymond Carver- esque stories of the Western working class in Rock Springs (1987). Then, after his shorter novel Wildlife (1990) received a more muted reception, Ford returned with the sequel to The Sportswriter called Independence Day (1995), which was the first book to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Independence Day continues the story of Frank Bascombe, a character invented when Ford’s wife asked him to write a novel about a happy man. While Frank worked as a sportswriter in the previous novel, he becomes a realtor in Independence Day, and the novel conveys in exhaustive detail his Fourth of July car trip with his juvenile delinquent son Paul to the Baseball Hall of Fame, considering all the while the holiday, the sport, and what they represent. Eventually, his son allows himself to get hit in the eye by the pitching device in a batting cage and the novel ends with Bascombe having to reconsider his value system in the face of his lack of success with his son. Since the critical and commercial success of Independence Day, Ford has written another well-received short collection of stories titled Women with Men (1997).

With A Multitude of Sins, Ford has produced a collection of ten stories loosely centered on the theme of adultery and its aftermath among the professional class. Many of the stories revolve around an affair between two married people who are found out by a spouse and the spouse’s reactions to the husband’s or wife’s infidelity. Since many of the characters are lawyers, the stories read like variations on a theme, with Ford considering the complexities of the moral consequences of their actions. In an interview for the Internet magazine Salon, Ford explained the moral aspect of his aesthetics: “It’s always easy to write about things that . . . go kaflooey, and people leave and the door slams and that’s the dramatic end. But I’m always interested in what happens after somebody walks out the door. I’m interested in what they do later.” Out of the disorder of romantic infatuation and middle-aged marital drift, the stories in A Multitude of Sins try to find meaning in people’s unexpected actions. Adultery obliges the characters to confront themselves when their marital roles no longer suffice. While the title of the collection hints at a judgmental look at the wages of sin, Ford consistently acknowledges the complexities of the consequences of his characters’ behavior and the difficulty of knowing what is the right thing to do.

The collection begins with a short piece called “Privacy” that highlights how often romantic dreams lead people into delusional attachments. The nameless narrator finds himself fantasizing about a nude woman he can barely see dancing in the distance in a building opposite his bedroom window. After reluctantly telling of his sneaky delight in gazing upon the woman as his wife sleeps in the same room late at night, he learns one morning that the Chinese woman he had been ogling is in her seventies. The story ends with his sense of betrayal by his own foolish, illicit pleasure.

Other shorter stories dramatize a single scene highlighting the discovery of an affair. In “Under the Radar,” Marjorie Reeves, the flirtatious young wife of Steven Reeves, admits to a year-long affair with a man as they drive to the same man’s house for dinner. This revelation at first stuns Steven, causing him to park the car out in the countryside. The shock of his wife’s revelation leaves him with a feeling common in many of the other characters put in this situation—a sense of disengagement from himself. It causes “him to detach from reality and to slide away from the present.” While this feeling leaves him distracted enough to punch his wife thoughtlessly, it does help him realize that...

(The entire section is 1705 words.)