Ford, Richard (Vol. 205)
Richard Ford 1944-
American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Ford's career through 2002. For additional information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 46 and 99.
Considered one of the finest fiction writers of his generation, Ford is best known for his novel The Sportswriter (1986) and its sequel Independence Day (1995). Ford was the first author to receive both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for the same novel, Independence Day. He is celebrated for his portrayal of everyday contemporary middle-class American life. His central thematic concerns include loneliness, alienation, male-female relationships, family life, the yearning for human connection, and a sense of disappointment in the American dream. His protagonists are restless, alienated, unremarkable men, incapable of sustaining emotional commitments to women. While troubled and deeply flawed, Ford's characters are ultimately both sympathetic and optimistic. Ford has been compared to Ernest Hemingway for his laconic, masculine prose, to Walker Percy as a Southern writer, and to Raymond Carver for his minimalism and style of “dirty realism.”
Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on February 16, 1944, and grew up directly across the street from the celebrated Southern writer Eudora Welty. Ford and his mother often accompanied his father, a traveling salesman, on his many road trips. When not taken on these trips with his parents, Ford stayed with his maternal grandparents at a hotel they owned in Little Rock, Arkansas. This sense of itinerancy has influenced Ford's fiction in the creation of characters who are psychologically and culturally, as well as geographically, rootless. When Ford was sixteen years old, his father died of a heart attack, a crisis to which Ford responded by developing a strong sense of personal responsibility for his life. This sense of the importance of accepting accountability for one's life choices became a central theme of his fiction. Ford attended Michigan State University, graduating with a B.A. in literature in 1966. He was briefly enrolled in law school at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, but decided to pursue a writing career instead. In 1968, he married Kristina Hensley, whom he has credited as a major influence on his development as a writer. Ford studied creative writing at the University of California at Irvine, earning an M.F.A. in 1970. He subsequently taught creative writing at the University of Michigan from 1974 to 1976, Williams College from 1978 to 1979, and Princeton University from 1979 to 1980. Although most of his early stories were rejected by literary magazines, Ford persisted in working on a novel. This six-year effort, A Piece of My Heart, was published in 1976. After poor reviews of his second novel, The Ultimate Good Luck (1981), Ford took a break from fiction-writing to contribute articles to a magazine called Inside Sports. After the magazine folded, Ford's wife suggested he write a novel about a man who is happy, thus inspiring him to write The Sportswriter. With the publication of this third novel, Ford established himself as a critically acclaimed, best-selling author.
A Piece of My Heart is set on an isolated island in the Mississippi delta, between Arkansas and Mississippi, during one week of an annual turkey-hunt season. Sam Newel, a Chicago law student, and Robard Hewes, an itinerant construction worker, meet by chance on the island. Each section of A Piece of My Heart alternates narration between the third-person-limited point of view of these men, as each grapples with his own personal demons. Sam and Robard emerge as mirror images of one another, one an intellectual and the other a sensualist. While Robard has left his wife and family in Arkansas in order to pursue an ill-fated affair with his married cousin, Sam struggles with the existential angst of an intellectual alienated from the world around him. The Ultimate Good Luck has been described as a crime thriller. The story concerns Harry Quinn, a Vietnam War veteran who tries to assist his ex-lover Rae in releasing her brother from a prison in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he is being held for drug trafficking. Their efforts result in a bloodbath, in which Harry kills three people but fails to free Rae's brother. Harry's existential struggles and his sense of disaffection with American culture represent the sense of disorientation felt by the generation that lived through the Vietnam War. The Sportswriter concerns the internal life of Frank Bascombe, a 38-year-old sports journalist whose marriage has collapsed after the death of his nine-year-old son, Ralph. The story takes place over the course of an Easter weekend. Throughout the novel, Frank engages in contemplative reveries—meditations on marriage, sports, life in suburban New Jersey, and the art of storytelling. Frank's self-reflections reveal that his extramarital affairs in the aftermath of his son's death are what ultimately destroyed his marriage. His decision to abandon his early writing ambitions are also a central topic of his personal musings. Ford's fourth novel, Wildlife (1990), is set in 1960, in Great Falls, Montana, where a raging forest fire functions as an extended metaphor for family crisis. Wildlife is narrated from the perspective of Joe Brison, looking back over a distance of thirty years to the events of a three-day period when he was sixteen years old. Joe examines the impact on himself and his family of his mother's extramarital affair, conducted while his father was away working as a firefighter in the distant mountains. Independence Day, the sequel to The Sportswriter, picks up Frank Bascombe's life at a point when he has quit working as a sportswriter to become a real estate agent in New Jersey. His ex-wife has moved with their two remaining children to the home of her new husband in Connecticut. The events of Independence Day take place over the course of the long Fourth of July holiday weekend, during which Frank attempts to reconnect with his fifteen-year-old son by taking him on a road trip that includes stops at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Massachusetts and the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York.
Ford has published three volumes of short fiction. Rock Springs (1987) was his first collection of short stories, most of them set in Montana and concerning characters in transition. Women with Men (1997) is comprised of three novellas, The Womanizer, Jealous, and Occidentals, in each of which a man contemplates his relationship with a woman. A Multitude of Sins (2001) includes ten short stories, most of them concerning characters engaged in extramarital affairs.
Ford has garnered widespread critical acclaim for his portraits of middle-class American life. John Bemrose, for instance, in a review of A Multitude of Sins, commented that Ford's fiction “dissects the vexed heart of the middle class” in America. Douglas Kennedy similarly observed in a review of Independence Day, “I cannot think of another contemporary writer who has his finger so firmly on the jittery, apprehensive pulse of the American middle classes, and who so understands their search for grace in a society that has lost its way.” Ford has been further praised for his portrayal of modern lives characterized by loneliness, alienation, and the yearning for connection. As Huey Guagliardo opined, Ford's “project as a fiction writer might be viewed as a search for the healing words that offer a kind of secular redemption from human loneliness and alienation.” Reviewers have admired Ford's well-crafted prose, rich with descriptive detail and a strong sense of place, and have commended him for a fresh perspective, skillful storytelling, effective use of first-person narrative voice, and accurate rendering of American vernacular speech. A number of critics have discussed Ford as a Southern writer, comparing him to William Faulkner, Walker Percy, and Barry Hannah. Ford himself, however, has stated that he does not like to be categorized as a Southern writer. He has sometimes been accused of creating superficial, emotionally flat characters lacking depth, and some reviewers have criticized his portrayal of women, claiming that his perspective is essentially masculinist. Others, however, have defended his representation of female characters, arguing that the women in his fictions are usually stronger and more self-assured than the men.
A Piece of My Heart (novel) 1976
The Ultimate Good Luck (novel) 1981
American Tropical (play) 1983
The Sportswriter (novel) 1986
Rock Springs (short stories) 1987
My Mother, in Memory (memoir) 1988
The Best American Short Stories 1990 [editor; with Shannon Ravenel] (short stories) 1990
Wildlife (novel) 1990
*Bright Angel (screenplay) 1991
The Granta Book of the American Short Story [editor] (short stories) 1992
Independence Day (novel) 1995
†Women with Men: Three Stories (novellas) 1997
Essential Tales of Chekhov [editor] (short stories) 1998
The Granta Book of the American Long Story [editor] (novellas) 1998
The Best American Sports Writing [editor] (short stories and essays) 1999
Conversations with Richard Ford (interviews) 2001
A Multitude of Sins (short stories) 2001
*Based on Ford's short stories “Children” and “Great Falls.”
†Includes Jealous, The Occidentals, and The Womanizer.
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SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. “Fallen Creatures.” New York Review of Books 34, no. 17 (5 November 1987): 12.
[In the following review, Kazin offers a favorable assessment of Ford's short story collection Rock Springs.]
“Low ceiling,” a distinguished novelist on an awards committee demurred when I spoke up for these stories by Richard Ford [Rock Springs]. Though often funny, his situations are not particularly sunny. In “Optimists” a railroad man who shunts engines through the yard sees a hobo mangled on the tracks. Returning home in a vehement state of mind to tell his wife what he has seen (and he is already vehement about her as well), he is so stunned by a guest in the house who arbitrarily criticizes him for not saving the hobo that with one blow he kills the guest. In “Empire” a man on a train journey with his wife is gripped by his total isolation in the long dark night when his wife goes to bed. Without liking her very much he makes love to a brusque woman in an Army sergeant's uniform. In “Great Falls” another rancorous husband suspicious of his wife swoops down upon her with their young son—they have been out hunting—in such a way as not only to end the marriage but to deprive the boy of both parents forever.
These external situations do not convey the moral atmosphere that draws me to these stories, most of them located in a “half-wild” Montana...
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SOURCE: Klinghoffer, David. “Warm for a While.” National Review 39, no. 23 (4 December 1987): 55-6.
[In the following review of Rock Springs, Klinghoffer comments that Ford's short stories provide a fresh and powerful treatment of the theme of the basic instability of modern life.]
The characters in Richard Ford's new collection of short stories [Rock Springs] do a lot of hunting, a lot of fishing. In “Children,” three teenagers stand on a river bank in Montana; Claude has just caught a whitefish, and Lucy and George stand by watching him struggle with the dying fish as he tries to pry the hook from its mouth. “What a surprise that must be,” Lucy says. “For the fish. Everything just goes crazy at once. I wonder what it thinks.” Coming halfway through the book, the scene resonates—its image, really, is at the heart of Rock Springs. What one character or another experiences in each of the book's ten stories is just that sudden, wild sensation of being caught, pulled completely without warning out of his accustomed life—and plunged suddenly into catastrophe. By the end of each story, something has “just gone crazy” for someone: he has been hooked and reeled in, struggling and gasping. Claude answers Lucy's question: “They don't. Fish don't think.” But of course people do. And what they think in that moment of crazy helplessness, and the moments, days, and...
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SOURCE: Schroth, S.J., Raymond A. “America's Moral Landscape in the Fiction of Richard Ford.” Christian Century (1 March 1989): 227-30.
[In the following essay, Schroth asserts that, in The Sportswriter, Ford successfully presents “a broad and complex cross-section of American middle-class life.”]
I discovered Richard Ford while looking for a novel to accompany Tocqueville, Habits of the Heart, and the travel narratives of Jonathan Raban and William Least Heat Moon in a course on American character. I sought one that would help illuminate the moral consciousness of America in the '80s, a nation bogged down and hemmed in by the individualism it had long touted as its strength; a tough and belligerent nation, still stunned and whimpering from the Vietnam war; a country whose politicians were campaigning on “family values,” while it seemed that hardly a family was not sundered by abandonment or divorce; a post-Christian society, even pagan, that thirsted for a taste of faith.
I had considered Russell Banks's Continental Drift, the story of a frustrated, priapic New Hampshire boiler repairman whose life disintegrates when he uproots his family to chase the American dream to Florida. James Atlas called it “the most convincing portrait I know of contemporary America.” But the protagonist, Bob DuBois, though in the narrator's eyes a “decent,” ordinary...
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SOURCE: Reich, Allon. “World According to Luck.” New Statesman and Society 2, no. 60 (28 July 1989): 32.
[In the following review, Reich concludes that neither the love story nor the mystery in Ford's The Ultimate Good Luck is satisfactorily resolved.]
The Mexican dictator, Porfirio Diaz, once despaired of the fate of his poor country situated “so far from God, and so near to the United States”. Geographically at least, this may be The Ultimate Bad Luck. In Richard Ford's novel [The Ultimate Good Luck], set in Mexico, while bungling American gringos are busy drug-trafficking or getting blown to raspberry ripple in a Baskin-Robbins ice-cream factory, a benign deity is notably absent. As Harry Quinn realises from the start, what you need to “come out with some skin left on” in Oaxaca—a city populated largely by soldiers and police and guerrillas and dead people, where life is cheap, and road names change in the middle as there are too many heroes and not enough streets—is “to get lucky”.
Quinn is in Mexico, answering a cry for help from ex-girlfriend Rae, to pay off the right people and spring her brother, Sonny, from the local gaol. This would be a cinch except that certain hoodlums are convinced that Sonny has been skimming-off some of their cocaine and are rather keen to get it back. Looming large is a Mr Deats who specialises in practical jokes with...
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SOURCE: Coates, Joseph. “A Son at a Loss.” Chicago Tribune Books (27 May 1990): 3.
[In the following review, Coates praises Ford's Wildlife as a beautifully modulated, consistently fine novel that accomplishes “a thoroughly worked-out expression of human feeling.”]
Richard Ford's fourth novel confirms that he, even more than the late Raymond Carver, is the principal heir of Ernest Hemingway in language, subject matter and esthetic strategy: the simple, colloquial sentences, the concentration on what T. S. Eliot called the “objective correlative” and Hemingway defined as “the sequence of motion and fact that made the emotion” for male characters who have almost no other means of thinking about, or even knowing, what they feel.
But Wildlife also points up how far Ford has gone beyond the constricted mental territory of the typical Hemingway man, who was always telling himself not to think about this or that specific pain or loss, the “casualties” that collectively were the mainspring of his talent, the aggregate wound that bent his bow. Especially when it came to the excruciating pain of childhood emotional trauma, he never went beyond short-story length in confronting it.
What Ford has done in Wildlife is fashion a beautifully modulated full-length novel out of the kind of pain that Hemingway tried to contain and dispose of in...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “Bland Saga of a Family in Search of a Foothold.” Christian Science Monitor 82, no. 167 (25 July 1990): 12.
[In the following review, Rubin comments that the strength of Ford's Wildlife lies in the effectiveness of its narrative point of view of a sixteen-year-old boy observing the disintegration of his parents' marriage.]
Richard Ford is the author of four previous books: three novels (A Piece of My Heart, The Ultimate Good Luck, The Sportswriter) and one story collection (Rock Springs). He is also the recipient of five awards: one Guggenheim Fellowship, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, one Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association Book Award, and an award in literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Although it is hardly Ford's fault that the prizes he has received thus far outnumber the books he has produced in his first 46 years, it would seem reasonable to assume that something about his work conforms to some widely held idea of what constitutes “good writing,” most particularly that form of good writing instantly classifiable as being “in the American grain.”
The kind of book that critics commend for being in the American grain usually features white, heterosexual, non-ethnic males of no more than average intelligence who live in underpopulated...
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SOURCE: Schroth, Raymond A. “Out of the Frying Pan.” Commonweal (10 August 1990): 461-62.
[In the following review, Schroth describes Ford's Wildlife as “a middle-class mini-saga which mirrors the pain and chronicles the minor redemptions of America at large.”]
In its very first sentence—“In the fall of 1960, when I was sixteen and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him”—Richard Ford's impatiently awaited new short novel, Wildlife, both tells its own whole story and recalls most of the major themes of Ford's four other works, particularly The Sportswriter and his recent book of short stories, Rock Springs. Once again, though without repeating himself, he recreates in the most intimate detail three seemingly month-long days in the lives of otherwise faceless men and women who struggle to survive the pains of anonymity, failure, infidelity, and family disintegration, in a middle-class mini-saga which mirrors the pain and chronicles the minor redemptions of America at large.
In “Empire,” the longest and most intriguing story in Rock Springs, Vic and Marge Sims, crossing the northwest on a train, peer out into the night at a wild fire burning on the open prairie. It is a fire which Vic imagines “could turn and sweep over them in a moment, and they would all be caught,...
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SOURCE: Trombley, Stephen. “Loneliness of a 16 Year Old.” New Statesman and Society 3, no. 113 (10 August 1990): 35.
[In the following review, Trombley compares Ford's Wildlife with Seth Morgan's Homeboy, praising Wildlife for lean, taut, dense storytelling.]
With few exceptions, lyricism in novels goes in inverse proportion to length. A generalisation if you like, but it throws up a useful way of looking at this odd brace of novels, if only by way of contradiction. Richard Ford's new novel [Wildlife] is short and anything but lyrical, but it succeeds in a very difficult intention. Seth Morgan's first novel [Homeboy] is very long, is meant to be lyrical in every line, and succeeds only in defeating what is perhaps a doomed intention.
Ford, whose earlier novels have earned him a comparison with Hemingway—unfair, because Ford is the better writer—tells the simple story of a three-day episode in the lives of a man and woman as observed from their 16-year-old son's point of view. Ford's themes are the preoccupations of the boy: his love for his parents, loneliness and a desire for knowledge.
The father is a middle-class drifter of considerable charm: a golfing pro with an elegant swing, beautiful hands and an appealing stoicism. The mother, following from one rented house to the next, working as a bookkeeper and living in...
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SOURCE: Ross, Cecily. “Flames of Desire.” Maclean's 103, no. 37 (10 September 1990): 82.
[In the following review, Ross offers high praise for Wildlife, describing it as “charged with poignancy and pain … Richard Ford at his finest.”]
Frank Bascombe, the central character of Richard Ford's 1986 novel, The Sportswriter, is a middle-aged journalist still reeling from his failed marriage and his abortive career as a fiction writer. As he surveys the disarray of his life, he predicts: “Something will happen. At least we have that to look forward to.” The same tone of hopeful melancholy colors the adolescent struggles of Joe Brinson, the 16-year-old protagonist of Ford's new novel, Wildlife. “Something'll happen to make things seem different,” says his mother, Jeanette Brinson, attempting to console her son. In his short stories (Rock Springs) and longer fiction (A Piece of My Heart, The Ultimate Good Luck), Ford repeatedly offers such small consolations in the face of a chaotic universe. The idea of human powerlessness is central to the author's spare and eloquent new novel. Infused with sadness, the characters in Wildlife are ordinary Americans living unremarkable lives: a golf pro, a swimming teacher, a young boy. But Ford's themes are universal, and they resonate with a Spartan grandeur.
Against the backdrop of a forest...
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SOURCE: Dupuy, Edward. “The Confessions of an Ex-Suicide: Relenting and Recovering in Richard Ford's The Sportswriter.” Southern Literary Journal 23, no. 1 (fall 1990): 93-103.
[In the following essay, Dupuy praises Ford's The Sportswriter as a life-affirming novel that unites the themes of happiness and loss through the effective use of a first-person narrative voice.]
We think of the key, each in his prison Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
—T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland
To be is just as great as to perceive or tell.
—Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass
Richard Ford is onto something. In his third novel, The Sportswriter, he has created a new character in the American literary landscape: a happy man. Frank Bascombe may not seem to fit the mold for what is often considered happiness. He is, after all, a man of losses, a man with a long list of titles beginning with “ex”—ex-fiction writer, ex-husband, ex-lover, ex-professor, ex-father to his oldest son, Ralph. Frank's losses could embitter him, for loss and happiness are terms not commonly conjoined. Nevertheless, Ford's deft portraiture avoids bitterness and irony. Bruce Weber, writing for The New York Times Magazine, noted that
The Sportswriter surprised many critics with its...
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SOURCE: Johnson, Diane. “Tell, Don't Show.” New York Review of Books 37, no. 18 (22 November 1990): 16-18.
[In the following review, Johnson discusses Ford's Wildlife in conjunction with two books by other authors that explore the screenplay form. Johnson asserts that, in Wildlife, Ford effectively utilizes dialogue and visual imagery to express the internal thought processes of his characters.]
I remember once seeing a friend's father, an elderly musician, sitting on the front porch reading the Trout Quintet, nodding and smiling over certain passages like someone rereading Persuasion, or like mathematicians who read beautiful theorems for aesthetic pleasure. Most of us sometimes read, with the same active imaginative enjoyment, recipes or the bridge column—two short, short dramatic forms. Sometimes these short works are in a different or compressed language, like the Trout, or like the passage in front of me: “w. m. p.1, up 1 p.3 = k.6, p.6, rpt. from *,” which allows my mind to run along to the finished sleeve. Michael Herr's recent book Walter Winchell is, as he tells us in a preface, “unashamedly” a screenplay, that is, an abbreviation related to a film as the knitting instruction to the sleeve; while awaiting the realization, the mind can take pleasure in the short form, pregnant as it is with suggestion. The screenplay may even be the work at...
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SOURCE: Dickstein, Morris. “The Voices of America.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4643 (27 March 1992): 21.
[In the following review of The Granta Book of the American Short Story, Dickstein praises Ford's introduction to the volume and his story selections, which show “a high standard of literary judgment” and include “many superb pieces of writing.”]
In the United States it is rare for writers to undertake anthologies of their near-contemporaries. Few are ready to do the work of reading their rivals, let alone risk offending everyone by their choices and exclusions. Since publishers have all but given up on the common reader, most American anthologies fall into the hands of academics with eyes on the course-adoption market.
Born in 1944, Richard Ford, the author of four novels and a powerful volume of stories, Rock Springs (1987), is one of the most impressive writers of his generation. The Granta Book of the American Short Story, his large, conscientious selection of American short stories since the Second World War is a significant event, introducing a whole range of recent writers to a British audience. Though by no means comprehensive, the book shows a high standard of literary judgment and contains many superb pieces of writing.
Since Ford and his publisher warn us that this is a personal selection—they even date it...
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SOURCE: Toynton, Evelyn. “American Stories.” Commentary 95, no. 3 (March 1993): 49-53.
[In the following essay, Toynton compares The Granta Book of the American Short Story, edited by Ford, with several other short story anthologies. Toynton is highly critical of Ford's story selections, asserting that they are characterized by bleakness, flatness, and emotional superficiality, and lack both vivid human characters and intense emotion.]
The poet-critic Randall Jarrell once defined the novel as “a prose narrative of a certain length that has something wrong with it.” The short story might be said to differ from the novel in that there need not be anything wrong with it—perfection, of however narrow a kind, being attainable in the shorter form that is inconceivable in the long. It was probably this that William Faulkner had in mind when he said he turned to writing novels because poetry was too hard and short stories only slightly easier.
Faulkner's positioning of the short story seems relevant to more than the degree of difficulty involved. The best short fiction presents us with a distillation of internal experience in something of the way that poetry does; less allusive, more grounded in the details of individual lives, it nevertheless tends to center on an epiphany, a moment of intense illumination, that is recognizably poetic in nature.
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SOURCE: Kennedy, Douglas. “Losing Ground.” New Statesman and Society 8, no. 361 (14 July 1995): 39.
[In the following review, Kennedy applauds Ford's Independence Day, calling it a great American novel about suburban American life.]
To many, the 1980s were the decade of American excess—that high-rolling era of triumphant avarice, in which upper-echelon urbanites danced to the music of mammon. And a stroll through some of the more visible novels of the era—The Bonfire of the Vanities, Bright Lights, Big City and Less Than Zero—reinforces this image of a society in love with the ethos of the fast-lane, restless in the midst of abundance.
But the most significant novel of the decade did not grapple with the dilemmas of the disaffected, overeducated, overindulged young, or with the lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-vindictive on Wall Street. Instead, it reminded one that beyond the artificial glitz of the Reaganomic boom was an entire suburban middle-class facing up to the gradual erosion of its tidy affable world.
More than any other novel of the era, Richard Ford's The Sportswriter caught—with elegiac brilliance—that search for some sort of tangible meaning within everyday life. And in Frank Bascombe—a one-time promising writer who retreated to the easier haven of sportswriting after the death of his son and the collapse of his...
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SOURCE: Burn, Gordon. “In Arch-Ordinary America.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4815 (14 July 1995): 21.
[In the following review, Burn applauds Ford's Independence Day as a considerable achievement that offers a fresh perspective on modern American life.]
“Prayerful” is a word Richard Ford has used (ruefully, not approvingly) to describe his writer's voice, although “fuguish”, as he uses it in this new novel, would have served as well. Among the early-morning sounds that are enumerated in the swelling, Aaron Copland-like overture to Independence Day—the university band tuning up on the football gridiron, a train hurtling through to Philadelphia, “the footfalls of a lone jogger”—are the bells of St Leo the Great in Haddam, the suburban/tourist town in New Jersey that is home to Frank Bascombe, Ford's narrator: “gong, gong, gong, gong, gong, gong, then a sweet admonitory matinal air by old Wesley himself: ‘Wake the day, ye who would be saved, wake the day let your souls be laved.’”
“Prayerful”, “fuguish”: these are not words it would have occurred to many people to use in connection with the novels and short stories of the “K-Mart” or “dirty realist” writers with whom Ford originally came to prominence, in the early 1980s. A sense of excited, personal discovery surrounded Ford's work in the years between 1981 and 1986. This was...
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SOURCE: Hiney, Tom. “What Became of Huckleberry Finn?” Spectator 275, no. 8714 (15 July 1995): 31.
[In the following review, Hiney describes Ford's Independence Day as well-written but crippled by a boring subject.]
When a good novelist chooses a boring subject to write about, the results can be exasperating. and as far as boring subjects go, male mid-life crises are about as bad as you get. The mid-life crisis is no doubt pretty exasperating itself but, like migraines, its importance is unfortunately strictly in the eye of the beholder.
Richard Ford is widely considered capable of writing Great American Novels, and it might be argued that there is some chronological logic to his choice of hero: the dulled Frank Bascombe could well be what Huck Finn grew up to be after he was a Great Gatsby thirtysomething. The trouble for the reader is that Finn and Gatsby had adventures whereas Bascombe has only uncertainly, guilt and existential resignation.
Independence Day is the sequel to Ford's bestseller, The Sportswriter, and sees Bascombe now working as an estate agent deep in rich New England nowhere. This is a potentially excellent career for a literary character to choose, given the variety and emotion that profession must regularly encounter. Unfortunately, Independence Day is not the realty classic some of us may have been waiting for....
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SOURCE: Gillespie, Nick. “Bye-Bye American Pie.” Reason 28, no. 7 (December 1996): 53-8.
[In the following essay, Gillespie examines representations of the “American dream” in several works of fiction and popular culture, including Ford's Independence Day.]
The literary critic Lionel Trilling once suggested that novels “deliver the news,” that they tell us “about the look and feel of things, how things are done and what things are worth and what they cost and what the odds are.” Novels, said Trilling, encode “a culture's hum and buzz of implication”; they record our daily business of living, loving, working, and dying.
The same holds true for other forms of cultural storytelling, including movies, television shows, and pop music. And, of course, the “news” itself, which employs a wide variety of dramatic forms and techniques even as it strives to represent our world in a realistic, accurate way. All these stories deliver the news by giving voice and expression to our dreams and desires, our cares and concerns.
One of the most popular stories circulating today has to do with a variously described “death” of the American Dream, especially in its “middle-class” variation. All the key words of the pronouncement are fuzzy—What exactly is the American Dream? Just who qualifies as middle class?—but there is a palpable sense that we are...
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SOURCE: Levi, Jonathan. “Lost in Translation.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (13 July 1997): 2.
[In the following review of Women with Men, Levi discusses Ford's treatment of the theme of men's alienation from, and misunderstanding of, women.]
During the 1980s, when the Kmart Konvoy of that loose American school of writing called Dirty Realism was driving four abreast and turning the memory of 20th century literature into road kill, Richard Ford rode like a loner. He was American, all right, an all-American writer. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996, after all, for resurrecting Frank Bascombe of The Sportswriter in Independence Day, an American's American, a suburban Joe with a set of dilemmas rich enough to give John Updike's Rabbit a run for his money.
But there was something mythic in Ford's best writing, something of a high plains drifter in the writer himself, that distanced him from the Tobias Wolffs, the Jayne Anne Phillipses, something that made him seem as un-American as Clint Eastwood.
With the appearance of three of his longer stories in Women with Men, the explanation becomes clear. Although the middle story, Jealous, inhabits the familiar, chilly Ford plains of Montana, the two outer panels of the triptych, The Womanizer and Occidentals, are set in an exotic Paris. It is a Paris of dreams, of...
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SOURCE: Ford, Richard, and Huey Guagliardo. “A Conversation with Richard Ford.” Southern Review 34, no. 3 (summer 1998): 609-20.
[In the following interview, conducted on July 25, 1997, Ford discusses his use of narrative voice, the influence of Walker Percy on his writing, and his use of the novella form in the volume Women with Men.]
Richard Ford is the author of five novels, including The Sportswriter (1986) and its sequel Independence Day (1995). He has also published a well-received book of stories, Rock Springs (1987), as well as a collection of related novellas, Women with Men (1997). This interview was conducted on July 25, 1997, in the relaxed atmosphere of Ford's townhouse on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a residence that in its rich and eclectic appointments reflects Ford's nomadic existence over the last two decades.
[Guagliardo]: Let's begin by talking about your most recent work, Women with Men, a collection of novellas. I'm interested in why you chose this form, which a reviewer for Time referred to as “the orphan of contemporary fiction. Too lengthy for modern magazines and too short for penny-pinching publishers.”
[Ford]: I think probably that alone was an inspiration, to try a form that seems to me highly serviceable, a form in which a lot of wonderful literature has been written, and...
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SOURCE: Brookner, Anita. “Adrift in the Male Doldrums.” Spectator 279, no. 8824 (13 September 1997): 36-7.
[In the following review, Brookner asserts that Ford's Women with Men is a disappointment after the successes of The Sportswriter and Independence Day.]
Richard Ford's heroes, markedly unheroic, live through a series of glum but sweet-natured intentions, with only one half-realised desire, ‘not to be the centre of things’. In this they succeed. In The Sportswriter, Ford's finest novel, Frank Bascombe was propelled through life by a puzzled and vulnerable desire to get it right: he at least did succeed, but in Independence Day he was further immobilised by middle-aged accretions, as was the novel. Cut adrift by more decisive women, Bascombe's latter-day avatars, Martin Austin and Charley Matthews, have reached a place where ‘events, reliances, just began to work out not right for seemingly no reason, then life began to descend into disastrous straits’. Their predicament (Matthews has even written a novel called The Predicament) makes these three long short stories a strangely exhausting and comfortless experience. Nor is this accidental. This is what happens to the unheroic hero, who, we feel, should be doing a little more on our behalf, should make more of an effort, or at least buy a decent map. For Austin and Matthews are in Paris, the Paris known to...
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SOURCE: Mewshaw, Michael. “Bad Baby-sitting.” New Statesman 126, no. 4356 (17 October 1997): 55.
[In the following review, Mewshaw discusses the themes of yearning, indecision, and loss in the stories of Ford's Women with Men.]
In a literary climate where the sun often shines on the dimmest writers, it's heartening that Richard Ford has attracted serious critical attention. But it must baffle and frustrate him to find reviewers slapping silly labels on his work, confusing his fiction with autobiography and forcing him into the company of inapposite American authors.
With the publication of Women with Men, book chat shows and magazine profiles have begun to recycle anecdotes and reinvoke names that have nothing to do with these three novellas or, for that matter, Ford's previous books. Described in Granta as a devotee of “dirty realism”, invariably characterised as a macho figure from Marlboro country, frequently linked with laconic stylists such as Hemingway or Raymond Carver, Ford has been hilariously misrepresented, never more so than when his Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Independence Day, was confused with a science fiction blockbuster of the same name.
On the evidence of five novels and a volume of short fiction, the author of Women with Men probably chose this title to separate himself from Papa, who produced a collection...
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SOURCE: Pritchard, William H. “Actual Fiction.” Hudson Review 50, no. 4 (winter 1998): 656-64.
[In the following review, Pritchard provides an overview of recent fiction that he feels deserves recognition as evidence of the ongoing vitality of the novel. Pritchard offers a favorable review of Women with Men, praising Ford for superb use of language and full, nuanced realism.]
It was an extraordinary spring for fiction, as if all the established novelists, especially in this country, agreed to hand in their latest work by way of attesting to continuing vitality. Among others, Mailer, Bellow, Roth, and Pynchon—to name four senior citizens of the group—showed up at the fiction bazaar. (Only Updike decided to wait until fall.) Roth's American Pastoral seems to me major work, the premiere book of the year; Mailer has taken his lumps; and Pynchon, for reasons partly incomprehensible, spent a few weeks on the bestseller list. Whatever happened to all those symposia of dire predictions on the Future of the Novel? Vanished, along with worries about a Failure of Nerve, or Our Country and Our Culture. An occasional voice raises itself to deplore the “conservative” tenure of contemporary fiction, and for those in sympathy with the complaint they can turn again to the arty English cutup, Jeanette Winterson, whose sixth novel makes a fuss about how hard it is to tell a narrative (“That's...
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SOURCE: Folks, Jeffrey J. Review of Women with Men, by Richard Ford. World Literature Today 72, no. 1 (winter 1998): 133-34.
[In the following review, Folks calls Women with Men “one of Richard Ford's most sensitive and contemplative works of fiction.” Folks discusses Ford's treatment of the themes of alienation, exile, loneliness, and frustration, contending that Ford records contemporary life in an observant and honest way.]
The theme of minor alienation and a contemporary tone of insincerity underlie each of the three stories in Women with Men. Martin Austin, a forty-four-year-old sales representative from Chicago, abandons his wife Barbara to join Joséphine Belliard, a subeditor at a textbook publishing house in Paris. Martin's fumbling, ill-timed, and ultimately dangerous efforts to press a relationship with Joséphine reveal his pitiable lack of self-awareness. As Joséphine says, “You cannot live a long time where you don't belong. It's true?”
Martin's discontent is the distasteful but familiar product of one who has led an unadventurous, counterfeit existence and who neither “pleased others” nor “pleased himself.” He is a character in denial of his culture, one who, in his wife's phrase, “takes [himself] for granted.” As such, he is, as he admits at one point, “dangerous” to others, a fact that is borne out in his failure to protect...
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SOURCE: Ford, Richard, Jennifer Levasseur, and Kevin Rabalais. “Invitation to the Story: An Interview with Richard Ford.” Kenyon Review 23, nos. 3-4 (summer-fall 2001): 123-43.
[In the following interview, begun on June 3, 1998, and continued on December 4, 1998, Ford discusses his writing process, his literary influences, and the role of the writer in American society.]
Richard Ford's novels include A Piece of My Heart, The Ultimate Good Luck, The Sportswriter, Wildlife, and Independence Day, which won the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award in 1996. He has written two collections of stories, Rock Springs and Women with Men. He has edited The Granta Book of the American Short Story, The Granta Book of the American Long Story, and The Essential Tales of Chekhov. Jennifer Levasseur and Kevin Rabalais interviewed Mr. Ford at his home in New Orleans on June 3, 1998. Kevin Rabalais met with him again on December 4, 1998.
[Levasseur/Rabalais]: It has been more than twenty years since the publication of your first novel, A Piece of My Heart. How do you look back on your body of published work, particularly the early novels?
[Ford]: I don't think about it unless somebody comes along and makes me think about it. My idea about those books is that I like them, and I feel about them...
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SOURCE: Folks, Jeffrey J. “The Risks of Membership: Richard Ford's The Sportswriter.” Mississippi Quarterly 52, no. 1 (winter 1998-99): 73-88.
[In the following essay, Folks contrasts the treatment of central themes in Ford's The Sportswriter and Walker Percy's The Moviegoer. Folks observes that Ford's novel focuses on the themes of family, intimacy, labor, and the need for social connection.]
In the first two sentences of The Sportswriter, Richard Ford sets forth the issues with which his novel will be most concerned: a man, his work, his home and sense of place, his relationship with family, and his expectation of “the good life.” Since Ford's writing has begun to be compared with that of Walker Percy, it would be well to consider the first sentences of The Last Gentleman, perhaps Percy's most canonical work and a book that announces its very different concerns: “a young man thinking,” the emptiness of physical existence (“The rock jutted out of the ground in a section [Central Park] known as the Great Meadow”1), and the issues of ontology and perspective represented by the young man's telescope. It is not until the eleventh paragraph of Percy's novel that another human being enters the narrative, a fact that suggests the most important contrast between Percy's and Ford's sensibility: despite his interest in theories of language and...
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SOURCE: Bone, Martyn. “The ‘Southern’ Conundrum, Continued: Barry Hannah and Richard Ford.” Mississippi Quarterly 53, no. 3 (summer 2000): 459-66.
[In the following essay, Bone compares Ford's writing with that of Barry Hannah, in terms of both authors' designation as Southern writers. Bone argues that Ford's Independence Day is not focused solely on the South, but is a comment on America as a whole in the late twentieth century.]
Barry Hannah was born in Clinton in 1942; Richard Ford was born in Jackson in 1944. Given their Mississippian background and—for all that Allen Tate first declared the “Southern Renascence” dead when little Barry and Richard were still in diapers—the ongoing obsession with the fortunes and “future of Southern letters,” it is hardly surprising that many critics have focused upon the “Southernness” of Hannah's and Ford's fiction. Ford began his career with a novel which he hoped “nobody would ever recognize as being southern”—yet A Piece of My Heart was dismissed as “neo-Faulknerian” by Larry McMurtry in the New York Times Book Review. Even though Ford subsequently made a “totally conscious decision to get myself out of the South,” critics have continued to suppose some significant relation between Ford's fiction and his birthplace.1 Hannah's work has received more subtle appraisals accounting for its parodic...
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SOURCE: Herd, David. “Nailing People.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5139 (28 September 2001): 24.
[In the following review, Herd provides a brief overview of the strengths of Ford's The Sportswriter and Independence Day, then discusses the theme of adultery in A Multitude of Sins concluding the latter volume ultimately offers a “limiting image” of life.]
The Sportswriter was a great book. Not “great” great as in Moby-Dick, but great like, say, Don DeLillo's White Noise: a powerful, disturbing, darkly funny account of what it is like to live in part of modern America. It wasn't a book with a great deal of happiness in it, on the whole it made you feel worse about things, but worse in the way that comes of a hard-nosed look at the rhythms and routines of white-collar life. Certainly it was the novel in which Richard Ford came into his own. Before that, and especially in his first book A Piece of My Heart (1976), Ford had written a dense, opaque, Faulknerian prose, which readers who only know his later books would hardly recognize as the same brand. Or as Frank Bascombe, the central character of The Sportswriter puts it, when reflecting on his own short stories and his decision to abandon literature for journalism:
They seemed to have a feeling for the human dilemma and they did seem hard-nosed...
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SOURCE: Bemrose, John. “State of the Sinful Union: Two Authors Take the Pulse of Uncle Sam.” Maclean's 114, no. 44 (29 October 2001): 60-1.
[In the following review of A Multitude of Sins, Bemrose praises Ford's exploration of the inner lives of his characters and his examination of the heart of middle-class America.]
First, there was free trade, and now we've joined our American neighbours on a military adventure, the results of which no one can safely predict. We've tied ourselves increasingly to the fate of the great republic to the south, but our familiarity with Americans is often superficial, gleaned mainly from their entertainment industry and the odd holiday. For some deeper insights into the workings of the American mind, better to turn to that old-fashioned artifact, the book. The adventures of the mad Captain Ahab—the protagonist of Herman Melville's 1851 novel, Moby Dick, which chronicles the pursuit of a great white whale—may well have more to say about where the U.S. is headed in the long run than the latest bulletin from CNN. So, too, with that country's best contemporary writers, figures such as Richard Ford, whose most recent collection of stories, A Multitude of Sins, dissects the vexed heart of the middle class. Or Jonathan Franzen, whose much-praised, hugely popular satire The Corrections takes deadly aim at everything that currently constitutes...
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SOURCE: de Falbe, John. “Crafted with Too Much Care.” Spectator, no. 9039 (3 November 2001): 57-8.
[In the following review of A Multitude of Sins, de Falbe finds that Ford's writing technique is stiff and overly crafted.]
I am told that Richard Ford describes the stories in this long-awaited volume [A Multitude of Sins] as ‘little Valentines from hell’. The phrase is apt: a rough count yields four sour, damaging extra-marital affairs and five collapsing marriages, detailed with dour intensity. ‘Calling’ tells of an adolescent being taken on a duck shoot by his father, who recently abandoned his wife and law firm for an older man. The cast of ‘Creche’ consists of two kids and their frightful father, their maternal aunt and grandmother: they have gathered at Christmas for some Fordian cosiness in a Michigan ski resort while Mum, who absconded with Vince because of his big dick, is in rehab. In ‘Under the Radar’ a young couple are driving to dinner in Connecticut. On the way, Marjorie tells Steven that she had an affair with their prospective host. The longest story, ‘Abyss’, is about two champion estate agents who have an affair and quickly come to despise one another on an illicit, fatal trip to the Grand Canyon. My own favourite is almost the shortest, ‘Reunion’. Here, the narrator comes face to face at Grand Central Station with the man who hit him for screwing...
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SOURCE: Guagliardo, Huey. “Walker Percy, Bruce Springsteen, and the Quest for Healing Words in the Fiction of Richard Ford.” Journal of American and Comparative Cultures (fall-winter 2002): 424-26.
[In the following essay, Guagliardo discusses the theme of storytelling as an antidote to loneliness and alienation, as expressed in Ford's fiction.]
In The Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy points out that “There is no such thing, strictly speaking, as a literature of alienation.” As Percy explains, “In the representing of alienation the category is reversed and becomes something entirely different.” Arguing that literature of this type actually serves to defeat feelings of alienation by forming human connections. Percy describes a “triple alliance” of reader, alienated character in a novel, and novelist that is created via the language by which the “unspeakable” experience of alienation is rendered speakable. The reader's response takes the form of consoling recognition: “Yes! That is how it is!” And the result, says Percy, is an “aesthetic reversal of alienation” (83).
Trained as a physician before becoming a novelist. Percy also came to view the novelist as a diagnostician of the modern malaise and to view literature as a kind of medicine for the human soul. Although Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford does not have a medical background and...
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Ford, Richard, and Bonnie Lyons. “Richard Ford: The Art of Fiction CXLVII.” Paris Review 38, no. 140 (fall 1996): 42-77.
An interview conducted in July 1996 in which Ford discusses his writing process, the development of his writing, and his experiences growing up in the South.
Ford, Richard, Paris Review, and others. “The Man in the Back Row Has a Question VII.” Paris Review 43, no. 158 (spring-summer 2001): 297-304.
An interview with several authors in which Ford and others answer a question about the experience of rejection in their literary careers.
Orr, Philip W. Review of Rock Springs, by Richard Ford. Georgia Review 42 (spring 1988): 210.
A negative review of Rock Springs, stating that its stories “suffer from a minimalness and emptiness of soul.”
Additional coverage of Ford's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: American Writers Supplement, Vol. 5; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 69-72; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 11, 47, 86, 128; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 46, 99; Contemporary Novelists, Ed. 7; Contemporary Southern Writers; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 227; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3;...
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