Richard Ford's first book, A Piece Of My Heart, scored big with reviewers across the country, but has largely been ignored by the reading public.
All the more a pity, since this book deserves a large readership, perhaps even as much or more so than The Sportswriter or Independence Day. If there is a fault with this book, it is that it flows too easily. It is the kind of work that can be devoured in a few hours. It reads so smoothly that it's rich detail can be easily overlooked.
The cinematic quality of this work cannot be understated. The sometimes stark, sometimes lush and haunting landscapes of this novel are so rich in description that they are seen effortlessly and because they flow so easily, the unwary reader is tempted to speed ahead like a traveler on the interstate, driving at breakneck speed through breathtakingly beautiful scenery.
Ford's characters are quirky and so three dimensional that they rise up before the reader with startlingly familiarity. I suspect that Ford loses many of his more urbane readers with the grittiness of these characters--their down home rustication and the sense of danger inherent in their ferocious living of lives from moment to moment.
For those who plunge into this work with abandon (as I did on my first reading), one warning: slow down. Savor the power of each scene. Don't go crashing through from page to page like a tourist in New York with one day to see the Metropolitan Museum. Enjoy each wonderfully crafted scene and avoid the temptation to read through at breakneck speed.
The amazing juxtaposition of whimsy, darkness and doom are quite extraordinary in this work. The plot, ostensibly, revolves around the actions of Robard Hewes, an uneducated but shrewdly obsessed and compulsive character who drives from his dusty desert home in California to his past in Mississippi in pursuit of Buena, a wanton married woman whose siren call is enough to overwhelm Robard with an inexplicable burning desire.
Sam Newell is Hewes opposite. Newell, a severely depressed man down from Chicago on the suggestion of his lover for some ill-advised convalescence as a guest at her grandfather's island hunting camp, is filled with self loathing and unintentionally invites the scorn of almost everyone he encounters. Newell, on the verge of commencing practice as a lawyer has broken down and drifts rudderless throughout the action of this work. Nevertheless, he is an important character and his short musings on his childhood are remarkably evocative and superb and this along with the stark nature of his intellect give insight into the workings of Ford's mind and the detached alienated characters that evolve in his later works.
Mark Lamb (the grandfather), his wife, and TVA (his cook and handyman), constitute an extraordinarily quirky and wonderfully drawn backdrop for a good part of the action in this novel. Lamb is one of the most endearingly cranky old men you will run across in any short novel. The odd domestic scenes that take place on the island are redolent with humor and are brilliantly drawn.
I cannot recomment A Piece Of My Heart too highly. It is a must read for those who appreciate good literature.