Saturday, January 21, 2017
An early look at Richard Ford's style ad thinking
Richard Ford's story from the 1980s Communist, in the 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, is a good representation of his work: beautiful topical description of the lonely wheat fields and mining towns of northern Montana (in the decades since this story's publication Montana has become kind of a hot literary territory - Ford was the pioneer), sensitive story told through a single incident of the coming of age of a young man, thoughtful account of adult relationships as seen from the POV of a young man, an intelligent narrator looking back on an episode of his early life, and the taut and unsettled relationship of a young man w/ his still-young and attractive mother (father absent from this story, presumably prematurely deceased). In fact, this story seems to me like a sketch version of the topics and themes of one of his novels from the 80s, Wildlife - a novel that most don't consider among his best, and that maybe worked better in the tighter format of the short story. In this story, the teenage version of the now more mature narrator recalls the sudden and unexpected visit from a man (the communist of the title, although nothing is made of this - surprising as it would have certainly set him apart from most other Montanans in that era), probably a little inebriated, who wants to take the boy hunting geese; the mother petulantly joins them. Eventually, they successful flush a "raft" of geese out of a pond and into the sky - the boy shoots two, and remembers the beauty of the geese in flight for the rest of his life. What to make of this? In part its the guilt the boy feels about the rush of excitement in the needless kill - they don't seem to want the geese for any reason, food or down. There's also a hint that this wanton destruction of the beautiful is part of the American psyche, especially during the 60s (the time period of the events of this story) and than the hunter had been part of the American incursion into Vietnam (and now regrets that). But it's no a story that you want to push too far into allegory or analogy: for the most part, it's a story about the uneasiness of a young man's maturation, calling to mind other great American stories on this theme, e.g., the Bear, or the Big Two-Hearted River, to name two. Maybe not Ford's best or most important work - some of the novels he wrote in subsequent years are really the foundation of his reputation - but an early glimpse into his style and his thinking.