Some thoughts on the man who just might be America's greatest living writer.
My reading habits tend to the obsessive. I start and fail to finish a lot of books, but when I find an author whose work hits me at that magic moment where the quality of the work and the resonance of what it says converge, I seek out all I can find. Such has been the case lately with Richard Ford.
I've yet to tackle any of his novels, owing mostly to the fact that I tend to prefer short stories these days. Lucky for me, the man is an absolute master of the short form.
Like Raymond Carver -- with whom Ford has often been compared (the two were contemporaries) -- he tells stories of regular people in regular situations. In doing so he reveals the pain, grace, nobility, and horror of life itself -- not life as one would perhaps like it to be lived. He sees things for what they are: extraordinary in many ways, provided one is willing to uncover it.
The thing that's weird for me is that Ford is still very much alive, and still working. For whatever reason, I don't read a lot of contemporary authors.
The advantage to this is that I can more or less study him in real time, see what he's up to these days and compare it to the things I've gleaned from his earlier work. One such opportunity arose with a curious piece he recently wrote for the Wall Street Journal, called "The Myth of Summer". Here's a particularly fine sample:
From where I stand I can see down through the trees and across the property line to our neighbors' new summer cottage, which is all but finished, with most of the work going on inside. The sounds of hammers and saws scarcely interrupt the quiet that the breeze has brought in from the south and off the bay that provides our house and our neighbors' house their lovely views. One man there, a young carpenter wearing a carpenter's apron and holding a claw hammer, has stopped to watch the goings-on here on our side. He waves his hammer at me in a gesture meant to be genial. I wave back. We all know what we know. I decide I might take a walk now, then later think about lunch.
The ability to write that well is a rare thing, and so it's a surprise to me that Ford isn't more popular than he is. Unless he really is quite popular and I just don't realize it. Either way, I'm here to recommend his work.
More on Ford here ("on the work of writing") and here (a Salon interview).
Also, he penned an absolutely amazing piece about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. If you click just one link from this page, make it this one.