Beth’s a voracious reader of fiction…me, not so much. Some of it is lack of patience—I tend toward small non-fiction bites—newspapers, magazines, essays and the like. Novels are an investment of time that I’m rarely willing to make. Which may be why short stories comprise a lot of the small body of fiction I have read.
I am awed by the best short stories—a great short is a concentrated, perfectly executed and polished gem. Beth’s written about one of our favorite writers (and a great friend) Jean Thompson. And I can’t recommend her enough—if you were looking for a short story starting point, try “Who Do You Love.” (BTW, Jean’s a terrific novelist, too.)
In the same stratosphere, in my humble opinion, is Richard Ford, who turned 70 years old yesterday. (I know this thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.)
Ford has won a Pulitzer for “Independence Day“, one of his three novels that follow a character named Frank Bascombe. I’ve liked all three of them, and loved his most recent novel—”Canada“—but am partial to his short stories. If you want a taste, I’d recommend “A Multitude of Sins” as a starting point.
I could go on about Ford, but I’ll save the effort and save you the trouble and just give you a taste. This passage is from “Calling,” one of Ford’s shorts from “A multitude of Sins” about a man’s complicated relationship with his complicated father. Thanks to Beth, who has a knack for finding the most thoughtful and meaningful gifts–it hangs on our living room wall. She bought the framed, signed passage from “Calling” at the Faulkner House book store in the French Quarter. Ford lived in the Quarter part-time years back, and was friends with the store owners. He signed it after a reading at the store back in 2002.
When I get wound up with anger and resentment, as those of you who’ve followed my posts know I am wont to do, I try to remember to read this before reaching a popping point. (I don’t always remember, but I try.) Anyway, here it is:
Like my father, I am a lawyer. And the law is a calling which teaches you that most of life is about adjustments, the seatings and re-seatings we perform to accommodate events outside our control and over which we might not have sought control in the first place. So that when we are tempted, as I was for an instant in the duck blind, or as I was through all those thirty years, to let myself become preoccupied and angry with my father, or when I even see a man who reminds me of him, stepping into some building in a seersucker suit and a bright bow tie, I try to realize again that it is best to just offer myself release and to realize I am feeling anger all alone, and that there is no redress. We want it. Life can be seen to be about almost nothing else sometimes than our wish for redress. As a lawyer who was the son of a lawyer and the grandson of another. I know this. And I also know not to expect it.