Sunday, December 5, 2010

On "Women with Men" by Richard Ford ****

Richard Ford excels in the long story. This work gives us three novellas about women and men. In "The Womanizer" a man stuck in Paris after his wife returns to the States becomes infatuated with a French woman, and though "nothing happens," finds himself obsessing over the "relationship" as his marriage goes through some hard times--obsessing to the extent that he is ready to start a whole new family life with this woman he barely knows who lives halfway across the world. In "Jealous," a young man readies to take a train with his aunt to go see his estranged, to leave Montana for the more active environment of Seattle--but in the process he learns things about his aunt, his father, himself, and about death and Native Americans and drinking, and just about everything. In the final piece, "Occidentals," the most-interesting tale of the three, a man, estranged from his wife, goes, with a temporary lover, to Paris to arrange for the publication of a translation of his new novel.

When I first read Ford's Rock Springs some twenty years ago, I remember being blown away first and foremost by his endings--lines that would somehow bring everything into focus and send chills down my spine. It's easy to come up with last line that sound like Ford, but it's not so easy to make them as powerful as Ford does. I really don't know how he does it, but that mystery is what makes Ford's work so special. It's also why I've probably never been as drawn to his longer works. That chilling effect seems most powerful when the piece is read in a single sitting, and unfortunately, given the length of these novellas, I was not able to get my Ford fix as I have from much of his work in the past. Enjoyable reading, yes, but his collections A Multitude of Sins and the aforementioned Rock Springs remain my favorites.

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