Richard Ford is a brilliant writer. The "techniques" of writing he has definitely mastered: dramatic tension, foreshadowing, incisive dialogue, et al. But I still recall the remark of a high school physics teacher who said: "I know people who can speak three languages, and have nothing to say in any of them." Ford is NOT one of those. He has the narrative skills, but more importantly, he has so much to say, particularly on the relationship between men and women. Sometimes noble; but all too often, ignoble. Just like in real life. Often there may be that experience that you believe has only occurred to you... and there it is, much more "universal" than you thought, in black and white, described by Ford. I've read most of Ford's works: Independence Day
, The Sportswriter
, Rock Springs The Ultimate Good Luck
, and Women with Men
. There are elements of each of these books in this one, but the subject matter covered most nearly resembles "Women with Men," and "Rock Springs."
This volume is comprised of ten short stories, or, if you will, nine, with the novella, "Abyss." For some reason the publisher started with the weakest, and shortest story, "Privacy," a brief look at the voyeurism fantasy. "Quality Time" concerns an affair with an older, rich woman in the Drake Hotel, in Chicago. "Calling" is primarily set in New Orleans, and involves a duck hunting trip, and the relationship between a coming-of-age son, and his now out-of-the-closet gay father. "Reunion" involves another affair, set in St. Louis, and the subsequent meeting of the husband and lover in Grand Central Station in NYC. "Puppy" is also set in New Orleans, and how an abandoned puppy might threaten a marriage. Doing a "Robert Frost" could become incorporated in your vocabulary after this story. "Crèche" depicts a highly dysfunctional family on a ski trip in upper Michigan, and involves the only story which alludes to a non-consensual consummation of a relationship. "Dominion" is set in Canada; another affair, and a very different twist in the denouement. "Charity" involves a married couple, an ex-police officer and his public defender wife vacationing in Maine, and covers the "mid-life" crisis contemplating how a change in locale might alter their lives. "Abyss" is yet another affair, between a couple married to others. They are both in real estate, a touchstone of Ford in "Independence Day." The "abyss" is the Grand Canyon, which they decide to visit. Metaphorically, of course, the "abyss" is so much more.
Bons Mots? Of course there are more than a few. Consider: "Everyone gets to think he wins, though no one does. That was extremely lawyerly." Or, "Possibilities would diminish. Life would cease to be an open, flat plain upon which you walked with a chosen other, and become instead cluttered, impassable." Or, "It was her doing, she thought; she'd invented him, turned him into someone she had a use for. His real intelligence was not to resist." And, Canada, eh: "It seemed very Canadian. Canada, in so many ways, seemed superior to America anyway. Canada was saner, more tolerant, friendlier, safer, less litigious."
A marvelous, penetrating examination of the complex emotional issues surrounding the transient, or more permanent liaisons among men and women. Richard Ford is one of the very best chroniclers of American life today. 5-stars plus.