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Perspectives on Richard Ford

Perspectives on Richard Ford

Edited by Huey Guagliardo
Copyright Date: 2000
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    Perspectives on Richard Ford
    Book Description:

    A comprehensive appreciation of the fiction written by this Pulitzer Prize author

    This is the first book-length examination of the fiction written by Richard Ford, who gained critical acclaim forThe Sportswriter, the story of suburbanite Frank Bascombe's struggle to survive loneliness and great loss. That novel, published in 1986, struck a chord with readers and reviewers alike, and Ford, a little-known writer who had for a time considered giving up the writing of fiction, was suddenly hailed inNewsweekas "one of the best writers of his generation."

    The Sportswriter, along with its 1995 sequelIndependence Day, which became the first novel to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, made Ford's Frank Bascombe as much a part of the American literary landscape as John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom.

    With three other novels, a well-received volume of short stories, and a trilogy of novellas to his credit, Ford is now firmly established as a major figure among writers of the post-World War II generation.

    Perspectives on Richard Fordis the first collection of essays to study the body of Ford's fiction. The nine essays demonstrate that Ford, like few other writers of his time, powerfully depicts what it feels like to live in the secular late-twentieth-century world, a dangerous and uncertain place where human relationships are impoverished and where human existence is often characterized by emptiness, solipsism, and, above all, by a sense of alienation. The contributors tend to view Ford's narratives of alienation in a broad cultural context. His works dramatize the breakdown of the institutions of marriage, family, and community. His protagonists often typify the rootlessness and the nameless longing pervasive in a highly mobile, present-oriented society in which individuals, having lost a sense of the past, relentlessly pursue their own elusive identities in the here and now.

    The collection, which concludes with a compelling conversation between Ford and the editor, will prove to be an essential companion to the work of one our most intriguing contemporary writers.

    Huey Guagliardo is a professor of English at Louisiana State University at Eunice.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-624-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    Huey Guagliardo

    There can be little doubt that Mississippi author Richard Ford will find a secure place in the canon of American literature. As of this writing, Ford has published five novels:A Piece of My Heart(1976),The Ultimate Good Luck(1981),The Sportswriter(1986),Wildlife(1990), andIndependence Day(1995). Ford first gained widespread critical acclaim forThe Sportswriter, the story of suburbanite Frank Bascombe’s struggle to survive loneliness and great loss. The novel clearly struck a chord with readers and reviewers alike. TheNew York Timesreferred toThe Sportswriteras “a devastating chronicle of contemporary alienation” (Kakutani 21),...

  5. Chronology
    (pp. xix-2)
  6. The Marginal People in the Novels of Richard Ford
    (pp. 3-32)
    Huey Guagliardo

    In his novels Richard Ford explores the lives of characters who are desperately searching to locate themselves in a world that is often unpredictable and beyond their control. Ford’s major novels are tales of betrayal, loss, loneliness, and the search for meaning. The Ford protagonist is a man living on the edge of intimacy, unable to commit to a relationship, and typically estranged from those he loves and who love him. From Robard Hewes and Sam Newel, the alternating centers of revelation inA Piece of My Heart(1976), Ford’s first novel, to Harry Quinn, the emotionally disabled Vietnam veteran...

  7. “On the Fine Edge of Disappearing”: Desperation and Despair in A Piece of My Heart
    (pp. 33-52)
    W. Kenneth Holditch

    Richard Ford’s first novel,A Piece of My Heart, is for a variety of reasons an anomaly in relation to his later work. It is considerably more pessimistic than much of the other fiction, and it is the only one of his works of fiction to date set in the Deep South in which he was born. The uncompromising darkness of the novel emanates from various states and degrees of despair in several of the characters. At a crucial time in both their lives, the protagonists, Robard Hewes and Sam Newel, come simultaneously to a strange, uncharted island in the...

  8. “The Tissue of Everyone’s Loneliness”: Expectation, Reality, and Alienation in The Ultimate Good Luck
    (pp. 53-70)
    Robert N. Funk

    Richard Ford is a curious figure in contemporary American literature. While he is frequently included in the canon of southern writers, he picks most distinctly unsouthern locales in which to set his fiction. His two most renowned works,The Sportswriterand its Pulitzer Prize-winning sequel,Independence Day, are set primarily in New Jersey, and only his first novel,A Piece of My Heart, is set in the South. Ford himself grew up in the South but has spent the greater part of his adult life living in places north and west of what are considered the southern states. Through the...

  9. The Confusions of an Ex-Suicide: Relenting and Recovering in Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter
    (pp. 71-82)
    Edward Dupuy

    Richard Ford is onto something. In his third novel,The Sportswriter, he has created a new character in the American literary landscape: a happy man. Frank Bascombe may not seem to fit the mold for what is often considered happiness. He is, after all, a man of losses, a man with a long list of titles beginning with “ex”—ex-fiction writer, ex-husband, ex-lover, ex-professor, ex-father to his oldest son, Ralph. Frank’s losses could embitter him, for loss and happiness are terms not commonly conjoined. Nevertheless, Ford’s deft portraiture avoids bitterness and irony. Bruce Weber, writing forThe New York Times...

  10. The Sportswriter: Post-Faulkner, Post-Southern?
    (pp. 83-96)
    Fred Hobson

    Richard Ford is a most uncommon southern writer—which is to say that, for the most part, his work seems to have little in common with most twentieth century southern writing. On the surface, his southern credentials are convincing enough: he was born in 1944 in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up there. As a child he lived next door to the Jefferson Davis School and across the street from the house where Eudora Welty had lived as a child thirty-five years before. But Ford left the South at eighteen and lived elsewhere for nearly a quarter-century, and only one of...

  11. Men with Women: Gender Relations in Richard Ford’s Rock Springs
    (pp. 97-120)
    Priscilla Leder

    In aNew York Times Book Reviewarticle, Vivian Gornick identifies Richard Ford as a creator of the latest version of “a certain kind of American story that is characterized by a laconic surface and a tight-lipped speaking voice.” Like Hemingway fifty years ago, Ford employs narrators who “[have] been made inarticulate by modern life” (1) to express the isolation and loneliness of modern experience. Relationships between men and women serve to dramatize this experience for Ford, as they did for Hemingway. According to Gornick, though Ford has replaced Hemingway’s “allegorical” women characters with characters who are men’s “fellow victims,”...

  12. Redeeming Loneliness in Richard Ford’s “Great Falls” and Wildlife
    (pp. 121-140)
    Elinor Ann Walker

    Several of Richard Ford’s works are classic coming-of-age tales in which a teenage boy must witness a parental failure, experience sexual desire and disappointment, pose questions that have no obvious answers, and, like William Faulkner’s Sarty or the narrator of James Joyce’s “Araby,” choose justice over kin or feel his eyes burn with anguish and shame. Ford’s male narrators in the short story “Great Falls” (included inRock Springs[1987]) and the novelWildlife(1990) experience loneliness that accompanies self-knowledge gained despite, or perhaps because of, the inscrutableness of others. Although Ford leaves his narrators in isolation at each narrative’s...

  13. Richard Ford’s Postmodern Cowboys
    (pp. 141-156)
    Jeffrey J. Folks

    Richard Ford approached the mythology and literary conventions of western fiction from the perspective of a native southerner who has spent most of his life in the South and the East, and, following the publication ofRock SpringsandWildlife, he has not returned to the western subject. As Russell Martin puts it, in explaining Ford’s absence from his 1992 anthology of contemporary western writing, Ford is among those “writers with strong connections to this Western country whose lives and work are now focused elsewhere” (xxii). But why should Ford have decided to write about the West at all? Why,...

  14. “Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be”: Isolation and Alienation in the Frank Bascombe Novels
    (pp. 157-176)
    William G. Chernecky

    Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe is the star and impresario of his own postmodern story to ward off cynicism and attain “normalcy” in an undramatic life where “[e]verything is as problematic as geometry” (Sportswriter107). InThe Sportswriter, Frank is thirty-eight, divorced, and living in Haddam, New Jersey, a kind of John Cheever exurbia within easy commuting distance of New York City. The town has no special “placeness” or enduring historical legacy per se, and, like Walker Percy’s own Covington, Louisiana, is an “interstice” beside the throughway. Frank’s former wife and their two children live separate lives in separate houses in...

  15. A Conversation with Richard Ford
    (pp. 177-196)
    Huey Guagliardo

    This interview was conducted on July 25, 1997, in the relaxed atmosphere of Ford’s townhouse on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a residence that in its rich and eclectic appointments reflects Ford’s nomadic existence over the last two decades. Ford had recently returned from a three-month stay in Berlin, whereIndependence Dayhad been translated into German.Women with Menhad been published earlier that summer, and so I decided to open the conversation with a series of questions about that book.

    HG: Let’s begin by talking about your most recent work,Women with Men, a collection of novellas. I’m...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 197-200)
  17. Works Cited
    (pp. 201-204)
  18. Contributors
    (pp. 205-206)
  19. Index
    (pp. 207-210)