Richard Ford Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How do the settings of Richard Ford’s fiction relate to the themes of his short stories and the novels?

Comment on the multiple meanings of the title Independence Day.

Consider the desire for order as exhibited in Ford’s novels The Sportswriter, Wildlife, and Independence Day.

Ford’s narrators and/or protagonists fall generally into two categories, young men or middle-aged men. Compare his portrayal of the points of view between one character from each work; for example, compare the narrator of Wildlife to Frank Bascombe in The Sportswriter or Independence Day.

Although Ford’s stories and novels are considered by many critics to be pessimistic in their outlook, there are optimistic elements in the endings of some of these works. Comment on one or two that exhibit this view.

Comment on the ambiguity in the ending of one or more of Ford’s stories or novels.

Ford acknowledges Sherwood Anderson as a major influence on his work and cites specifically “I’m a Fool” and “I Want to Know Why.” Comment on how “I Want to Know Why” would be an appropriate title for several of Ford’s works of fiction.

Discuss self-analysis as a major element of various Ford characters.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Richard Ford made his reputation as a novelist before turning to short fiction. His first novel, A Piece of My Heart (1976), marked him as a southern writer, since it was set primarily in Arkansas and on an uncharted island in the Mississippi River. The Ultimate Good Luck (1981) told the story of a Vietnam veteran, Harry Quinn, in Mexico, on a quest to get his girlfriend’s brother out of jail. The Sportswriter (1986) is set in New Jersey and tells the story of a failed novelist trying to put his professional and personal life in order. Independence Day (1995) is a sequel to The Sportswriter. Ford’s short-story collection Rock Springs and his novella Wildlife are set in Montana. In 1991, Ford’s screenplay Bright Angel, also set in Montana and adapted from stories in the Rock Springs collection, was made into a film directed by Michael Fields and released by the Hemdale Film Corporation.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Richard Ford, a writer’s writer, has been praised for his clean style and craft by other writers such as Raymond Carver, E. L. Doctorow, and Joyce Carol Oates, who described him as “a born story teller with an inimitable lyric voice.” Walker Percy called The Sportswriter, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, a “stunning novel.” Over the years, Ford earned several fellowships. From 1971 to 1974, he was a University of Michigan Fellow, and he went on to become a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow (1977-1978) and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow (1979-1980). A Piece of My Heart was nominated for the Ernest Hemingway Award for the Best First Novel of the Year in 1976. Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1996, becoming the first novel ever to win both prizes. Ford won the Rea Award in 1995.

Such recognition, however, was slow in coming. According to Ford’s friend and Michigan classmate Bruce Weber, the combined sales of Ford’s first two novels amounted to fewer than twelve thousand copies. The Sportswriter, which sold sixty thousand copies, was the turning point in Ford’s career and encouraged the publisher to put the first two novels back in print. The hard-cover edition of Rock Springs published by Atlantic Monthly Press sold twenty-five thousand copies, and the Vintage paperback edition was then scheduled for an initial run of fifty thousand copies.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to writing novels, Richard Ford has published collections of his own short fiction and has edited several short-story anthologies. Rock Springs (1987) brings together some of Ford’s short stories that previously appeared in Esquire, Antaeus, The New Yorker, Granta, and TriQuarterly. Ford has also written screenplays, including an adaptation of his novel Wildlife. Women with Men (1997) is a collection of three novellas set in Montana, Chicago, and Paris that all revolve around the complications of romantic love. A Multitude of Sins (2001) consists of a series of dark short stories that generally concern the issue of infidelity.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Richard Ford has received increasingly high critical praise ever since The Sportswriter, which was generally regarded as one of the best novels of 1986. His short-story collection Rock Springs received accolades from many of North America’s major reviewers. Ford’s novels mark a return of the southern writer and a high point for “neorealist” or minimalist fiction. As such, they combine the symbolic and psychological depth of William Faulkner with the blunt, forceful prose of Ernest Hemingway, two writers whom Ford has acknowledged as being primary influences. Ford’s evocation of a transient, displaced America is rendered with a deceptive simplicity that itself acts as counterpoint and comment on the complexity of postmodern American society. The hero of his 1995 novel Independence Day, Frank Bascombe, is one of the greatest delineations of the suburban, middle-class male in contemporary American fiction, a rival to John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom. Independence Day also consolidated Ford’s reputation as a major American writer of the post-World War II era.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Alcorn, Ellen. “Richard Ford: His Novels Are a Medicine Against Pain.” GQ 60 (May, 1990): 224-225. A profile of the writer at age forty-six. Attempts to show how Ford found his inspiration for the novella Wildlife from his own difficult childhood. For Ford, storytelling is a kind of “medicine against pain.”

Ballantyne, Sheila. “A Family Too Close to the Fire.” Review of Wildlife, by Richard Ford. The New York Times Book Review, June 17, 1990, 3, 12. This review essay is perceptive in finding at the heart of Wildlife “a deep nostalgia for that moment when a person recognizes a true perfection in the way things once were, before the onset of ruin and great change.” It describes the narrative structure of the story as resembling a memoir, though lacking “a memoir’s breadth and scope.”

Folks, Jeffrey J. “Richard Ford: Postmodern Cowboys.” In Southern Writers at Century’s End, edited by Jeffrey J. Folks and James A. Perkins. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. A discussion of Rock Springs as a postmodern Western whose characters are colonials and victims of a restrictive social environment. Argues that Ford’s fiction is marginal literature in which all personal relationships are shadowed by political facts.

Folks, Jeffrey J. “The Risks of Membership: Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter.” Mississippi Quarterly 52, no. 1 (Winter, 1998): 73-88. Compares Ford’s writing style to that of Walker Percy.

Ford, Richard. “First Things First.” Harper’s Magazine 276 (August, 1988): 72-77. Ford offers a first-person account of his life and career as a writer, from the...

(The entire section is 756 words.)