WILDLIFE by Richard Ford


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Readers of Ford's last book, a story collection (Rock Springs, 1987), will orient themselves quickly here--and wonder if maybe this isn't a story that got away from that collection and got puffed up a little. The 16-year. old narrator is living in Great Falls, Montana, in 1960. His father is a golf pro who suddenly finds himself fired for no good reason. A short time later, the father packs up and leaves to fight a raging forest fire in the North that threatens never to go out. Almost as soon as he's gone, the mother takes up with the rich and confident Warren Miller, the owner of two local grain elevators. She takes her son to dinner at Miller's house, and later that night has Miller join her in bed. The son wordlessly discovers them--to his great hurt. Then the father returns, commits an act of ineffectual revenge on Miller, and the story drifts away. Warren Miller has some dimensionality, but then he's the fulcrum here. Son, father, and mother (she especially--with a cynicism and sexual impulsiveness that seem just a tad unaligned, given how Ford first portrays her)--all are the least inflected and most stock of characters, paper dolls that seem most evidently designed to soak up sad truths. In Ford, there are scads: "'Your life doesn't mean what you have, sweetheart, or what you get. It's what you're willing to give up. That's an old saying, I know. But it's still true. You need to have something to give up. Okay?'" Or: "And I understood, just as I sat there in the car with my mother, what I thought dangerous was: it was a thing that did not seem able to hurt you, but quickly and deceivingly would." These K-Mart pearls are the kind that country-and-western songs are strung with, and here especially they appear to be the only things Ford's high lonesome sound is after.
Pub Date: June 15th, 1990
ISBN: 0802144594
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1990


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