‘Between Them’ is more than a memoir about Richard Ford’s upbringing – it’s in essence a brilliantly woven account of parenthood told in a rawness that is as striking as it is tragic. Ford’s love of his parents and struggle with his parentages is exquisitely constructed with prose that is written in such a poignant, elegant and poetic way; it’s brilliance becomes somewhat of a page turner. It had me reflecting about my parents and the parents that my wife and I are to our wonderful children. I love books that challenge and ask questions about yourself and when reflected upon this book did just that.
Richard Ford is one of America’s great writers ‘Wildlife’, ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’ and ‘Women With Men’ are wonderful books. With his newest addition to an already flourishing bibliography ‘Between Them’ takes his talent to new heights where the beauty drips from its pages with such splendour it’s like sitting next to a babbling brook; we are taken on an unforgettable and privileged journey into the intimacy of his life and existence between his parents.
Ford’s parents where born in Arkansas, his father Parker Ford a grocer when he met his wife and Ford’s mother Edna. Parker although from these humble beginnings soon became a sales representative; selling laundry starch. It doesn’t seem that interesting does it. But the way Ford writes about this humble beginning is like seeing a master at work, his use of language and his evocative prowess are brilliant and hold the reader’s attention like a heart attack (but more about that later).
In the opening third of the book Ford treats us to the first glimpses into his relationships with his mother and most importantly his father (as the first half of the book is a memoir to his father and the second his mother) and how he exists ‘Between Them’. Parker’s new sales job keeps him on the road during the week, meaning that Ford’s relationship with his father is completely different from that of his mother, peers and what society should say making it an arrestingly brilliant read.
‘I do not know about my father’s faith – if he had any. He might’ve said he did – after his heart attack. But he did not practice one, not as long as I knew him. I know he didn’t take pleasure in books – where he could’ve found what we all find if we don’t have faith: testimony that there is an alternate way to think about life, different from the ways we’re naturally equipped. Seeking imaginative alternatives would not have been his habit.’
Ford details in the first half of the book that his father’s first heart attack happened at the age of 43 and he struggled on for another 12 more years eventually passing away at the age of 55. What I was struck with is the affection that Ford pours out about his relationship with his father, although he was absent (most of his childhood) when he was present he was surely present. I admire the honesty that Ford leaves in this book and that he admits that his relationship with his father was different from other children’s relationships with their fathers but to him it was ordinary and the other children were the exception. I also found myself relating to the not knowing where he fitted ‘between’ their lives before and after his arrival – searching for his place within their affections. It’s strange isn’t it that our parents had lives before we arrived – something that Ford paints wonderfully in his recollections.
“I grew up understanding that the view from outside any family, mine included, and the experience of being inside would always be different.”How true these words are…
The second portion of the book revolves around Ford’s mother Edna. We hear from Ford an unflinching and interesting account of his mother and her as a person, wife, mother and ultimately a parent. Ford begins with her humble upbringing, born to a fourteen-year-old mother, being sent to a Catholic school and the meeting of Ford’s father – the rest they say is history. It is a tremendous insight into how parent’s parent, I also found the subtle interlacing of photographs helps with the story narrative and adds something deeply personal to Ford’s account, enabling the reader to visualise the times his account is set in.
The outstanding pieces for me were the details regarding Ford’s parents before his arrival on the scene and they had to become parents; the realisation of his parents having a life before him were profound, how they fitted him into their lives, the things they sacrificed, the stories they told or in his case didn’t tell. ‘Between Them’ is told in such a relatable way that it had me at times picturing my parents, my upbringing and how I related to them growing up, through the stories they told and the photos I’ve seen – my dad used to rock out to Status Quo and when he got married had longer hair than my mother. However, when looking back at these photos and stories of my parents, I can’t help but think where did my cool parents go?
Ford has a mysterious ability to see and write about the commonplace in an exciting and extraordinary way making it arrestingly attractive to its reader – able to see the mundane in everyday life but write about it in visions of clarity and beauty.
Parenting doesn’t come with a manual and I feel Ford is trying to put that across in this memoir; it’s what we do with the time we have that counts and how we fill the space ‘Between Them’ and us.
Richard Ford was born in Jackson, Mississippi. He has published eight novels and four collections of stories, including The Sportswriter, Independence Day, The Lay of the Land and the New York Times bestseller, Canada. Independence Day was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the first time the same book had won both prizes. Let Me Be Frank with You was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in 2015. His work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, and most recently was awarded the Prix Femina Étranger in France and the Princess of Asturias Prize for Literature in Spain. Richard Ford lives in Maine with his wife.
Between Them will be published by Bloomsbury Books on 4th May 2017.
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Review by Ross Jeffery
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