One of the most celebrated and unflinching chroniclers of modern life now explores, in this masterful collection of short stories, the grand theme of intimacy, love, and their failures.
With remarkable insight and candor, Richard Ford examines liaisons in and out and to the sides of marriage. An illicit visit to the Grand Canyon reveals a vastness even more profound. A couple weekending in Maine try to recapture the ardor that has disappeared from their life together. And on a spring evening, a young wife tells her husband of her affair with the host of the dinner party they're about to join. The rigorous intensity Ford brings to these vivid, unforgettable dramas marks this as his most powerfully arresting book to date-confirming the judgment of the New York Times Book Review that "nobody now writing looks more like an American classic."
Tracing the blueprint of human interaction in this latest collection of nine short stories and a novella, Ford signals the master text of lust standing behind the multitude of small sins he so tersely and poignantly chronicles. To err is human, and, in Ford's worldview, little is so human as the act of cheating on a wife or husband. In "Charity," a married ex-cop turned successful toy-maker, Tom Marshall, is caught by his wife, Nancy, a lawyer, having an affair. Johnny, the narrator of "Reunion," reflecting on his affair with Beth Bolger, sums it up like this: "At any distance but the close range I saw it from, it was an ordinary adultery spirited, thrilling, and then... it became disappointing and ignoble and finally almost disastrous to those same people." The novella, "Abyss," the collection's finest entry, tells the story of Frances Bilandic, a go-getting real estate agent with an older, invalid husband, and Howard Cameron, an ex-jock real estate agent with a more privileged background. They meet at an awards dinner in Mystic, Conn., and are soon screwing each other in hotel rooms in "little nowhere Connecticut towns." When both are sent to a convention in Phoenix, they look forward to time together, but Frances discovers Howard is a selfish putz, while Howard decides Frances is a little trashy and ditzy. Their extended outing ends in real disaster when Frances decides she wants to see the Grand Canyon. Ford's execution is flawless; this story has a canonical heft to it, bearing comparison to the best of Flannery O'Connor. Its presence alone makes this collection an essential volume, and the rest of the stories hold their own alongside it. (Feb. 19)Forecast: It's been four years since Ford's last book, the story collection Women with Men, was published to mixed reviews, and Ford's fans will turn eagerly to this new, more consistently satisfying collection. Released in a first printing of 75,000, it promises to do well sales-wise as well as critically.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 03, 2003
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Excerpt from A Multitude of Sins by Richard Ford
This was at a time when my marriage was still happy.
We were living in a large city in the northeast. It was winter. February. The coldest month. I was, of course, still trying to write, and my wife was working as a translator for a small publishing company that specialized in Czech scientific papers. We had been married for ten years and were still enjoying that strange, exhilarating illusion that we had survived the worst of life's hardships.
The apartment we rented was in the old factory section on the south end of the city, the living space only a great, empty room with tall windows front and back, and almost no electric light. The natural light was all. A famous avant-garde theater director had lived in the room before and put on his jagged, nihilistic plays there, so that all the walls were painted black, and along one were still riser seats for his small disaffected audiences. Our bed--my wife's and mine--was in one dark corner where we'd arranged some of the tall, black-canvas scenery drops for our privacy. Though, of course, there was no one for us to need privacy from.
Each night when my wife came back from her work, we would go out into the cold, shining streets and find a restaurant to have our meal in. Later we would stop for an hour in a bar and have coffee or a brandy, and talk intensely about the translations my wife was working on, though never (blessedly) about the work I was by then already failing at.
Our wish, needless to say, was to stay out of the apartment as long as we could. For not only was there almost no light inside, but each night at seven the building's owner would turn off the heat, so that by ten--on our floor, the highest--it was too cold to be anywhere but in bed piled over with blankets, barely able to move. My wife, at that time, was working long hours and was always fatigued, and although sometimes we would come home a little drunk and make love in the dark bed under blankets, mostly she would fall straight into bed exhausted and be snoring before I could climb in beside her.
And so it happened that on many nights that winter, in the cold, large, nearly empty room, I would be awake, often wide awake from the strong coffee we'd drunk. And often I would walk the floor from window to window, looking out into the night, down to the vacant street or up into the ghostly sky that burned with the shimmery luminance of the city's buildings, buildings I couldn't even see. Often I had a blanket or sometimes two around my shoulders, and I wore the coarse heavy socks I'd kept from when I was a boy.
It was on such a cold night that--through the windows at the back of the flat, windows giving first onto an alley below, then farther across a space where a wire factory had been demolished, providing a view of buildings on the street parallel to ours--I saw, inside a long, yellow-lit apartment, the figure of a woman slowly undressing, from all appearances oblivious to the world outside the window glass.
Because of the distance, I could not see her well or at all clearly, could only see that she was small in stature and seemingly thin, with close-cropped dark hair--a petite woman in every sense. The yellow light in the room where she was seemed to blaze and made her skin bronze and shiny, and her movements, seen through the windows, appeared stylized and slightly unreal, like the movements of a silhouette or in an old motion picture.
I, though, alone in the frigid dark, wrapped in blankets that covered my head like a shawl, with my wife sleeping, oblivious, a few paces away--I was rapt by this sight. At first I moved close to the window glass, close enough to feel the cold on my cheeks. But then, sensing I might be noticed even at that distance, I slipped back into the room. Eventually I went to the corner and clicked off the small lamp my wife kept beside our bed, so that I was totally hidden in the dark. And after another few minutes I went to a drawer and found the pair of silver opera glasses which the theater director had left, and took them near the window and watched the woman across the space of darkness from my own space of darkness.
I don't know all that I thought. Undoubtedly I was aroused. Undoubtedly I was thrilled by the secrecy of watching out of the dark. Undoubtedly I loved the very illicitness of it, of my wife sleeping nearby and knowing nothing of what I was doing. It is also possible I even liked the cold as it surrounded me, as complete as the night itself, may even have felt that the sight of the woman--whom I took to be young and lacking caution or discretion--held me somehow, insulated me and made the world stop and be perfectly expressible as two poles connected by my line of vision. I am sure now that all of this had to do with my impending failures.
Nothing more happened. Though, in the nights to come I stayed awake to watch the woman, letting my wife go off to sleep in her fatigue. Each night, and for a week following, the woman would appear at her window and slowly disrobe in her room (a room I never tried to imagine, although on the wall behind her was what looked like a drawing of a springing deer).