Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ford has been criticized for giving his characters too much insight, too much room to muse and find meaning in those moments that remain memorable through their lives. Critics of his fiction claim that the men who typically populate his stories are a luckless breed of Westerners who should not possess the lyrical impulses that drive his stories. They argue that the author imposes his own voice on his narrators, and that men such as Les—who come from broken homes and marginalized backgrounds—could not possibly be as sensitive and articulate as Ford depicts them. It is true that Ford usually gives his characters dialogue that means something—words weighted with dramatic implication. Ford defends his method of meaning-filled conversation, however, by explaining that he is not trying to write dialogue that “is actual to life. I’m trying to write dialogue that refers to life.” He adds that he does not think readers need to read stories merely “to have life rehashed. Stories should point toward what’s important in life, and our utterances always mean something.” Ford jeopardizes credibility when his characters step outside the boundaries of their emotional landscapes and go beyond the expectations of the reader; however, the risk is rewarded with an intimacy that would not exist if Ford refused to let his narrators speak. When Les reflects “I don’t know what makes people do what they do, or call themselves what they call themselves, only that you have to live someone’s life to be the expert,” the simple wisdom of his words seems to be merited by the experience that he has lived through. He is forty-one years old at the time of his telling, looking back at a time when he was sixteen. He has had twenty-five years to think about the events of that November day. It is not at all surprising that he has learned a few hard lessons.