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Sorry for Your Trouble: Stories

de Richard Ford

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I received an advance copy of this short story collection from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I place Richard Ford’s short stories in a top shelf group of very good short story writers with a distinctive American voice. I think of him in a group that contains John Cheever and Raymond Carver, each to his time. Each of these writers focused on the everyday person and how he lives and thinks about his life. Stripping the conventions and rosy suburban glow and getting to the reality underneath.

Several of the stories in Sorry for your Trouble deal with the overlap of the past and the present—with characters who wonder where to proceed into the future. Most are transitional stories. In “Nothing to Declare” a man encounters a woman from his past. She was very significant to him back then but they, well at least he, have moved on. She seems unmoored while he is grounded in family and career. While reading this I felt that this situation probably happens on a fairly regular basis. I was left with a feeling that Ford was true to the characters and that the story was realistic, if a bit sad.

Most of the stories in this collection are sad.

Several stories deal with transitions in the form of divorce or death. My favorites were “The Run of Yourself” in which a widower attempts to move on after his wife commits suicide while being drawn to the same old places; and my favorite of the whole collection “Second Language” where the protagonist deals with both death and divorce and really never gets over either one. Like many people, he never gets good answers for the “why” questions in his life.

These stories have little action and focus instead on diving deep into the characters, their individual perspective on shifting relationships and major life events. The people in these stories come from everyday life and are quite realistic in thought and action. For me, reading Ford’s short stories lets you shed your skin and enter a different person and have no sense of it being just a short story.

He is a wonderful writer.
5 stars. ( )
  ChrisMcCaffrey | Apr 6, 2021 |
It was such a joy to read what Richard Ford can do with his characters in these short stories from his most recent collection, Sorry for Your Trouble. The mix of the big events and everyday things that happen between his characters is beautifully captured in these stories. It is so rewarding when you pick up a book by one of your all-time favorite writers and they show you all over again why you love their writing. Everybody knows about the ups and downs in their own relationships with people, but reading Ford’s story allows one to step back and see how his characters experience many of the same tensions, the ones that slam people around as they simply attempt to live around each other. And yet the tenderness that he captures in his writing is stunning. It also has to do battle with the pettiness that often fills many people’s lives. He’s a master.

“The Run of Yourself” is a brilliant story of a widower from New Orleans, Peter Boyce, who travels to Maine to rent a cabin near a beach. Peter is not looking to have an idyllic vacation, as he’s rented the cabin right next door to where his wife committed suicide two years previously. His late wife Mae had had cancer and had saved up her medications and sent him off to get some melons at a fruit stand, while she took her deadly dose. [I find myself thinking about her whenever I see melons nowadays.]

The couple had regularly come to that other cabin every August. At first his mind runs wild with all the reminders of Mae and their time around these cabins. Then the story heads in several new directions, as he considers buying a cabin, his estranged daughter Polly shows up for a brief visit, and then he meets a young girl in need of help. Polly’s anger over her mother’s death and Peter’s actions leads Peter to say the following to her. “I’m just learning to get along, darling. Like you are. It’s only been two years.” Before I lost my wife Vicky, I would have read that comment about the two years, and thought that this guy just needs to move on. Now that I know the intensity and the emptiness of such a loss, two years, and time in general, have taken on an entirely different scale. This story of a cabin has lodged in my head. It also contained this telling line. “He simply realized that being a widower was not, in spite of what others thought, the same as being single.”

The last story, “Second Language,” was a beautifully tragic piece of work. A woman’s husband never returns from a far-ranging solo sailing trip, and another man witnesses the following at his kitchen table. “[Mary Linn] sat down with a cup of tea, looked across the table at Johnny, smiled curiously and remarked that she’d probably feel better if she would just lay her head on her folded hands a moment, which she did. And died before Johnny could reach to touch her. She had cancer … Dying was likely the only real symptom she’d experienced.” The two survivors eventually meet and decide a second marriage is called for after just three months. Yet, in the end, it doesn’t work out and they seem better off being friends. The writing is so subtle and tender. At another point in the story, it was as if Ford was writing a scene that Vicky and I had lived out while looking at a blissful blue screen before a movie started at a funky movie theater in Sacramento.
“What’s going on in that head of yours?
Charlotte smiled in the shadows. “Oh, nothing. There’s usually not much going on in my head, Johnny. Sometimes I just have a feeling and let myself completely feel it. Don’t you do that?”

One more quote that could easily fit in many of Ford’s stories, was from a story titled “Crossing.” “A moment can come from nowhere and life is re-framed. Stupid. But we all know that it can.”

So, on a warm northern California day, this was a voice from my reading past, the words of Richard Ford were impressive in the breeze of the backyard. It was all about his characters living segments of their lives, Mr. Guinness in a cool bottle with condensation running down it, and me reading these excellent stories and thinking about life. I brought little to the table; I was just an appreciative reader. Normally I just start with the first story and cruise through a collection in order, but I jumped in here, went to there, and came back around to another. I chose by the initial impression of a story’s first few lines. I did finish with the last story last, and it slayed me. Yep, put dying spouses, divorces, and second marriages in a story and I’m definitely interested. The collection has gotten some mixed reviews, and granted a few of the stories are somewhat weaker, but when he impressed me, he wowed me with his best. ( )
  jphamilton | Apr 5, 2021 |
A quality collection of not so short stories based on characters of the author's age group (late middle age). There are also connections to New Orleans and Ireland. The stories take a close look at loss and the struggle to kindle and rekindle relationships later in life. Ford's words ring true but for a narrow segment of our society.. No age, ethnic or racial diversity here. It is what it is - but Ford is a skilled author who knows his audience. ( )
  muddyboy | Dec 13, 2020 |
Richard Ford is one of my favorite writers. His Frank Bascombe novels are classic. In this collection of short stories you get to see his great prose. The 9 stories have two that are almost novellas. The themes deal with loss from divorce, death and how the characters deal with life changes. The stories take place in the south, New England, and England. Most of the lead characters are male and the stories always touch on the relationships between men and women. I think this a good book for older people to read because the characters reflect on their lives and it is easy for those of us of a certain age to identify with what the characters are going through. If you have never read Ford, this might be a good introduction. He can be a bit wordy at time and in some of the stories he would throw in too many characters to follow, but there is no doubting his creativity and writing skill. ( )
  nivramkoorb | Sep 12, 2020 |
Ford has taken a set of tales that get to the heart of the human condition. Each one is well-crafted and addresses differnt aspects of Americana. However I felt a little short-changed by the fact that these are short stories as several could have been expanded further. Ford is in excellent writer who understands the nuances of life. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jun 17, 2020 |
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