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Ten variations on a handful of themes broken families, financial insecurity, moral unease, desolation, and the West The characters in these stories may appear interchangeable and a bit too similar, but to me they simply seemed human While not every story has a protagonist to root for, most have one to root against, one to feel sorry for, and one with whom we can relate The characters make mistakes, they pay for them, and they mostly accept their flaws For me, these stories were not always e Ten variations on a handful of themes broken families, financial insecurity, moral unease, desolation, and the West The characters in these stories may appear interchangeable and a bit too similar, but to me they simply seemed human While not every story has a protagonist to root for, most have one to root against, one to feel sorry for, and one with whom we can relate The characters make mistakes, they pay for them, and they mostly accept their flaws For me, these stories were not always enjoyable to read, but I couldn t help but want to read another Seedy characters in desperate situations, and often with children caught in the middle of it all I wanted to knowabout these people, but Ford only gives us small glimpses at a time, mostly from the first person perspective Each story is another fragment of small town life in the West individually, some of these stories are weak, but as a collection, the recurring imagery, repeated phrases, and familiar locations complete the picture I m already a huge Ford fan, but if his Bascombe novels turned you away, this short collection might hook you As another reviewer noted, it s largely told from a male perspective, but I didn t feel as if the female characters were slighted at all In fact, I felt these were some of hisrealistic female characters, some caring, most emotionally detached, others overly sensual While there s largely a disconnect between parents and children here, Ford still manages to convey a maternal tenderness in these stories that most female characters in the Bascome novels lacked.I can see how the back to back publication of this and the Sportswriter in the late 80s really put Ford on the map Every time I read this collection I enjoy itthan the last and become evenimpressed with Ford s ability to get so deep without seeming to His beginnings are subtle, and his endings crackle with meaning The middle of his stories oscillate between quiet moments that explode like depth charges with their silence, and tense action threatening to undo the characters Rock Springs is remarkable for its tone, the way that Ford captured the language of the first person narrator s sense o Every time I read this collection I enjoy itthan the last and become evenimpressed with Ford s ability to get so deep without seeming to His beginnings are subtle, and his endings crackle with meaning The middle of his stories oscillate between quiet moments that explode like depth charges with their silence, and tense action threatening to undo the characters Rock Springs is remarkable for its tone, the way that Ford captured the language of the first person narrator s sense of himself, but still let the reader see that the narrator was worse than he thought he was The ending is brilliant, the way it winds up rather than down to a series of questions that are left hanging there for the reader Great Falls begins with this first paragraph This is not a happy story I warn you Are you hooked or what There s so much in this story that is good tone, details, precisely focused scenes, that climactic scene where the father has the gun under Woody s chin, the hopelessness of the scene with the mother, and the questions at the end, again without answers This time a shadow of meaning follows the questions, but it is not an epiphany and it seems clear that this meaning is really in no way a result of the events the story recounts it is something the narrator accumulated along the way, it s the something that allowed him to tell us this story Sweethearts is a story I admire for what it tries to do put into words a situation that might defy expression It s a story that might have been better if it had tried to do less, maybe give it the Carver treatment It s like Ford was struggling hard to make the reader understand why this event is so significant, and thus he brings in all these details and dialogue to try to make us see the full import Ultimately, though, I think those efforts work against him There s too much going on Better perhaps to have picked less to show and leftfor the reader to fill in Children is a complex story full of anger and tension and threats, yet it is the quiet moments that crush When Lucy takes the beer and the hotdog and the transistor radio out of the paper bag and says I ve accumulated this much so far Wow And the best thing is that Ford doesn t stop the flow of narrative, doesn t let the narrator reflect, or even notice the importance of that image he leaves it for the reader to discover A little bit later Lucy says Batteries are my next assignment Yikes, it s like being in a grain silo that s slowly filling up The way he plays the characters off each other in this story is fantastic I like that George is observing and understanding so much, understanding things he isn t aware of, while at the same time feeling that everything is a mystery, that he understands nothing The ending is a nice touch Claude has become quiet, so full of himself, yet clearly diminished In this story, as with all of the stories in this collection, Ford has thought deeply about his characters, journeyed inside to imagine what life must mean, and feel like, for them The things the characters worry about and question or don t seem their own, they don t appear to be disguised author s questions which of course they are Going to the Dogs seems the weakest, by far, in this collection Nothing deep here, just an ironic twist as the guy going to stiff his landlord gets robbed, after being setup by the two women hunters There is some humor in the situation, which is atypical for the stories in this collection Empire is a novella, or at least a very long story It doesn t culminate in any change for Vic, which is odd because I think the story gets it s energy from the expectation that something is going to happen, something that will change Vic But, even when he sees himself in the mirror, An Adulterer s face, a face to turn away from, he doesn t seem affected beyond the moment, and there is no sense that he will be affected It s a hard to story to figure, with its juxtaposition of transitory feeling and loss There s a mood that permeates when we are just with Vic, and that mood is clashing with the mood of the framing scenes with Marge I m not exactly sure how Ford wants us to feel about these characters The ending paragraph is stunningly nihilistic Winterkill is a sleeper of a story It starts out not moving anywhere fast and then ends in a crescendo Like Empire, it has the juxtaposition of transitory feeling and loss as a driver for it s meaning And like many of Ford s stories, a day in the life of the characters takes on much deeper meaning because of how the narrator thinks and feels about what happens Without that perspective nothing in the story is dramatic, the drama comes from how the narrator reveals what s at stake The ending is one of Ford s best the narrator slipping away so as not to see, or be seen he knows what s at stake Optimists has the same structure as Great Falls, Children, Communist, and even Jealousy from Women With Men and the novel Wildlife an early 40 s male narrator reflecting back on a teenage experience that he now realizes changed the course of his life In all of these stories the narrator has so much authority That authority comes partly from the accuracy of the details, and the mastery of tone, but it owes a lot to the matter of factness of the narration Momentous events acknowledged A history of hard times traceable, now, to those events Yet, not a trace of self pity As the narrator of Empire commenting on the army women, and imagining the lives they must have fled to choose a career of military life says something to run away from Bad luck, really Or as the mother in Optimists says Maybe that s what this is Just a coincidence As for the story itself, the only scene that I had hard time with was the ending scene The disconnection the length of time since they d last seen each other between mother and son seemed too great based on the information Ford has provided in the story There is a subtle hint that Frank may have blamed his mother for what happened to his father and their life and she is at least concerned that Frank did not think that she was in love with the man his father killed It s a powerful ending scene, but strikes a slightly sour note on the believability scale Although I m not willing to say it would be a better story if we hadexplanation for why they hadn t seen each other Fireworks is a story I didn t really appreciate until this reading More life has passed me by so perhaps I can appreciate it now Or maybe it was because I was having a similar day as the narrator when I read it One of those days when your whole life and all its consequences seems to be in your head One of those days when something otherwise inconsequential makes you aware of the choices you ve made One of those days where you look at where you re at and realize it s a place you never imagined yourself Ford captures that state of mind perfectly in this story Again, without self pity I think that is the key to what makes these narrators work and perhaps what seems to fail in The Womanizer and Occidentals from Women With Men those narrators wallow in self pity The ending is pitch perfect Not a life changing moment, but a rescuing moment just the same, the kind of moment we needof in literature Not to be saved forever but saved for today, saved for right now, saved for just this instant If you forced me to choose and this would be a tough choice Communist, the collection s concluding story, might just be my favorite The geese are transcendent Equally riveting is the way that the mother continues to taunt Glen about the wounded goose until he shoots it And then that climactic moment when Les wants to hit Glen hard in the face and see him on the ground bleeding and crying and pleading for me to stop That s a great honest moment The ending scene with the mother is probably the best of the stories that end this way Great Falls and Optimists are the others Again, another honest moment The transition Ford makes with the first sentence of the last paragraph so simply and so quickly brings back the frame just in time to break your heart As I said, this is one of my favorite short story collections These are stories that I can read over and over, and theI do so, theimpressed I become with the subtlety of Ford s art in these stories They have the appearance of being one thing, often because of the narrative voice he establishes Many of the stories begin with an older narrator reflecting on something that happened in his youth That sets up the expectation that the story is going to be about something the narrator learned, or has now come to understand about that long ago experience That setup is usually fulfilled But the reason the stories have so much power is that there is this sense that muchhas happened than the narrator lets on or is even aware of himself After years of repeated reading I m beginning to see that the hidden power is in the other characters, sometimes the minor, bit players, and what happens to them, or how questions about what they might be feeling, haunt us The narrator s experience is a kind of ruse The narrator s story is satisfying these might be good stories even if that s all that was there But what makes these stories resonate is the subtle currents that are on the periphery of the narrator s experience Things that happen to other characters and that the narrator describes in passing, while missing their significance, but that Ford clearly intends the reader not to miss How difficult a writing task is that Rocky Mountain Highs Flock of Snow Geese Now he walks in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes.His sight is turned inside himself, to try and understandthe serenity of a clear blue mountain lake Rocky Mountain High, Denver Taylor, 1972This splendid collection of short stories reminds me why I love realist short stories of unique characters in gorgeous faraway settings I d never experience but for the magic of literature.In picturesque prose precisel Rocky Mountain Highs Flock of Snow Geese Now he walks in quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step he takes.His sight is turned inside himself, to try and understandthe serenity of a clear blue mountain lake Rocky Mountain High, Denver Taylor, 1972This splendid collection of short stories reminds me why I love realist short stories of unique characters in gorgeous faraway settings I d never experience but for the magic of literature.In picturesque prose precisely crafting signal situations, Richard Ford explores turbulence in relationships and the human restive consciousness, made all theevident against his halcyon landscapes, from the wide ranges of Wyoming to the highlands of Montana Each story one of resolution or revelation, eliciting an enduring empathy.One story, called The Communist, paints possibly the most brilliant scenery I ve read in all literature I cannot do it justice Above is the closest picture I could find to a large part of the scene.The best set of short stories I ve read in a long time Maybe ever The best and most succinct thing I can say about this collection is that almost all of these stories could be adapted by the Coen brothers If that sounds like something you d be into then I can almost guarantee you ll like Rock Springs.Elsewise These stories can feel repetitive in the middle of the collection Sweethearts and Winterkill have such identical set ups that if someone else had written one of them instead of Richard Ford, he could sue them for plagiarism A woman in Winterkill The best and most succinct thing I can say about this collection is that almost all of these stories could be adapted by the Coen brothers If that sounds like something you d be into then I can almost guarantee you ll like Rock Springs.Elsewise These stories can feel repetitive in the middle of the collection Sweethearts and Winterkill have such identical set ups that if someone else had written one of them instead of Richard Ford, he could sue them for plagiarism A woman in Winterkill says an almost identical line as a woman in Empire certainly deliberate, also not going to help combat criticisms of sexism and if you want to chuckle to yourself a little, you should read each story s opening paragraph in succession There should be a Richard Ford opening paragraph writing contest on GoodReads This collection could have been better if he instead worked the material into a few novellas But the final three stories Optimists , Fireworks , and Communist are the best, and ultimately won me over.I also have to disagree with whichever critical blurb on my edition praised Ford s diversity of voice, or breadth of compassion, or suchlike There was some stretching, but I would have been farimpressed with his writing ability and social imagination if, for example, Sweethearts had been seen through Troy s POV, or Going to the Dogs through Bonnie s and or Phyllis s, etc Two words gold mine Twoloved this.My absolute favorite was Sweethearts, followed close by Communist and the titular Rock Springs. Richard Ford writes stories somewhat like Raymond Carver, only withof an edge Set mostly in the towns and rural areas of Montana, his stories are about characters who have survived against the odds busted marriages, unemployment, jail terms, and a kind of bleak aimlessness Some struggle to hold onto an identity that will maintain their self respect and some sense of security, but it s often slipping away as life s lessons leave them typically empty handed.In the title story, a man with Richard Ford writes stories somewhat like Raymond Carver, only withof an edge Set mostly in the towns and rural areas of Montana, his stories are about characters who have survived against the odds busted marriages, unemployment, jail terms, and a kind of bleak aimlessness Some struggle to hold onto an identity that will maintain their self respect and some sense of security, but it s often slipping away as life s lessons leave them typically empty handed.In the title story, a man with a small daughter hopes to start a new life with a new girlfriend and a stolen Mercedes In another story, a boy watches his parents marriage come unglued as a young man only a few years older drives off into the night with the boy s mother Two boys skip school to spend the day with a girl who has run away from home and has spent the previous night in a motel with the married father of one of them A young man is escorted by his former wife and her new husband to the police, where he reluctantly turns himself in after robbing a convenience store A game of canasta is interrupted in a young boy s home when his father punches another man in the chest and kills him A man in a wheelchair goes fishing and discovers that his line is snared in the carcass of a deer In another story, a biker has a vanity plate on his Harley with the word LOSER.Children and teenagers figure in many of Ford s stories They are witnesses to the disintegrating lives of the adults who try awkwardly and often unsuccessfully to care for them All in their innocence or their growing awareness of the world seem destined to lives of loneliness and confusion like their parents Who they are becomes nothan a thin boundary between bad luck and diminished dreams, muted by the temporary relief of alcohol, sex, and either a groundless optimism or a fatalistic surrender to futility.This is an interesting book to read along with Mary Clearman Blue s All But the Waltz, which describes the tough survivors among Montana homesteaders who were confronted by unimaginable bad luck during the 1920s and 1930s and found the resources within themselves to persevere Only a generation or two later, Ford s characters seem made of lesser stuff, as though circumstances have reduced a pioneering spirit to exhaustion.Ford is a terrific storyteller These are wonderfully written stories that for the most part let characters speak for themselves as they puzzle over the meaning of what s happening to them A sexual tension pervades many of the stories, along with a poignancy that allows characters to preserve a degree of dignity, even as they behave foolishly A lot of writers who do the brutal, spare stuff are not keen on explaining everything a character is thinking, even exactly what a character doesn t understand, or odd things the character might fear Richard Ford doesn t avoid those tricky emotions here Since these stories are all first person, the narrator will always go into detail about what they believe are important moments It becomes most intense when a character is confused Troy moved his hand around on the deer, then looked at me agai A lot of writers who do the brutal, spare stuff are not keen on explaining everything a character is thinking, even exactly what a character doesn t understand, or odd things the character might fear Richard Ford doesn t avoid those tricky emotions here Since these stories are all first person, the narrator will always go into detail about what they believe are important moments It becomes most intense when a character is confused Troy moved his hand around on the deer, then looked at me again in a painful way What is it he said A deer, I said You caught a dead deer Troy looked back at the little deer for a moment, and stared as if he did not know what to say about it And sitting on the wet sand, in the foggy night, he all at once looked scary to me, as though it was him who had washed up there and was finished I don t see it, he said and sat there That fragment might not be a good example Moments that aren t so unusual become evil or darkly funny, like in Raymond Carver It s the same territory They were friends apparently I ve been reading someof Carver s friends since I ran out of his writing to read Tobias Wolff, Ford, and maybe Andre Dubus I like this stuff, this book especially reminds me of Death in The Woods by Sherwood Anderson.Somehow I got a signed first edition of this off offor 2 cents and 3.99 sh Richard Ford s short stories, because they are short stories, lack the almost overwhelming power and depth of his great novels, The Sportswriter and Independence Day But as short stories, they are no less masterfully crafted and lyrical Of the huge glut of American writers and their publications, Ford is one of the few who will actually be studied and remembered after he is long dead and gone He has such a distinct rhythm to his prose, somehow lyrical without being flowery He excels at addin Richard Ford s short stories, because they are short stories, lack the almost overwhelming power and depth of his great novels, The Sportswriter and Independence Day But as short stories, they are no less masterfully crafted and lyrical Of the huge glut of American writers and their publications, Ford is one of the few who will actually be studied and remembered after he is long dead and gone He has such a distinct rhythm to his prose, somehow lyrical without being flowery He excels at adding an almost mythical quality to utterly realistic, frequently even mundane moments in the lives of distinctly American characters working class types, mostly ex military drifters, semi employed day laborers, teens in small towns His best passages depict people dancing in a bar Friends fishing at the river, or even a character just driving, watching the world blow by His stories certainly have elements of violence and surprise, but as Rock Springs travels through its dozen or so stories, these elements become less and less, and the tales become, oddly, evenpowerful and memorable as a result Ford also ends his stories as well as any writer alive, frequently zooming back from the protagonist and showing us how they and this small moment they have been captured in resonate in the great, hard void of a universe that surrounds us all I ll finish with an example of what I m talking about, the final paragraph of the wonderful story Fireworks Starling couldn t see Lois opened the door out into the drizzle, turned her back to him and struck a match He could see it brighten And then there was a sparkling and hissing, and then a brighter one, and Starling smelled the harsh burning and the smell of rain together Then Lois closed the door and danced out before the car into the rain with the sparklers, waving her arms round in the air, smiling widely and making swirls and patterns and star falls for him that were brilliant and illuminated the night and the bright rain and the little dark house behind her and, for a moment, caught the world and stopped it, as though something sudden and perfect had come to earth in a furious glowing for him and for him alone Eddie Starling and only he could watch and listen And only he would be there, waiting, when the light was finally gone Hunting, fishing, drinking too much, avoiding going to jail, grudgingly going to jail, thinking up get rich schemes, abandoning them when they flop, committing or discovering adultery, witnessing accidents, witnessing murders, dealing with being unemployed when your wife s successful ex comes to town, being a child and knowing one day you ll be one of those sad adults, being an adult looking back on that life changing incident that made you grow up, realizing you re basically alone.Welcome to Ri Hunting, fishing, drinking too much, avoiding going to jail, grudgingly going to jail, thinking up get rich schemes, abandoning them when they flop, committing or discovering adultery, witnessing accidents, witnessing murders, dealing with being unemployed when your wife s successful ex comes to town, being a child and knowing one day you ll be one of those sad adults, being an adult looking back on that life changing incident that made you grow up, realizing you re basically alone.Welcome to Richard Ford country, folks Montana roads and interstates Lots of motels Pick up trucks Some gorgeous endings All written in a low key yet poetic voice that feels authentic and as comfortable as a faded pair of blue jeans Imagine if Carver, Hemingway and Tobias Wolff drank too much beer and then got into a pissing competition ^FREE PDF ↷ Rock Springs ↛ In these ten stories, Ford mines literary gold from the wind scrubbed landscape of the American West and from the guarded hopes and gnawing loneliness of the people who live there Rock Springs is a masterpiece of taut narration, cleanly chiseled prose, and empathy so generous that it feels like a kind of grace