Book Review: Sorry for Your Trouble: Stories by Richard Ford

Sorry for Your Trouble: Stories
Richard Ford
Bloomsbury Publishing

This latest collection of short stories by Richard Ford contains nine stories, one of which The Run of Yourself at fifty-eight pages is more like a novella. Some of the stories with their rootless characters appear ‘missionless’ like the black characters observed in Leaving for Kenosha. Here are people often hanging out in roadhouses or restaurants in their understated quest for life’s meaning. Their little epiphanies sometimes merge into a sameness of homogenous lawyers and divorcees grieving and wandering, in their slow moving like the rivers frequently referenced, letting life happen to them rather than the opposite.
There is lot of geography to wade through as the narratives flit between Ireland and America paralleling lives, but despite the various settings none of the characters seem to feel at home anywhere. In Crossing, an American travels to Ireland to finalise a divorce from an Irish woman, and the journey invokes memories. In The Run of Yourself, Ford creates a wonderful picture of small-town American life with its bitchiness and petty crimes all recorded in the local organ Amity Argonaut, the disdain for which is shown by using it to start a fire.
A key card failing to open her hotel room door is the spur for a female teacher’s epiphany in A Free Day as she conducts an affair in Dublin. In the perfectly titled Second Language Jonathan, a married man, was ‘not feeling very married’ which leads to an existential crisis as he tries to create a sense of what marriage is. Ford is very good on body language. The enigmatic Ms Nail in Nothing to Declare ‘raises her chin as if to challenge’, showing how important a part of the story actions can be when words prove inadequate.
There is a little too much reportage in some stories such as Happy, but then when dialogue is employed it can be very incisive: ‘We don’t want anyone else once we’ve learned who we are,’ says Sandy in Nothing to Declare. Ford is a master of philosophical insights and pithy wisdom which are interspersed into the narrative. The ever questing Jimmy Green in the eponymous story comes to the conclusion that ‘here was never precisely the point you’d attained’.
Sometimes there can be a whiff of patronisation or stereotyping about the characters. ‘The Irish look’ in Crossing refers to the Irish Patsy with her ‘chin slightly incomplete’ and ‘two plump hands’. In fairness, Ford is not averse to stereotyping his own country at times, asserting in The Run of Yourself that Boyce, ‘being from New Orleans’, could be scapegoated if he had declined the rental of his house to a black family.
Ford declared when judging the Davy Byrnes Stories in 2009, ‘I could have done with a few more laughs.’ The same is true of this collection. When the humour does occur, it is striking and deadpan. The old dog wags its tail ‘as if someone had spoken to it’ in the meandering The Run of Yourself. And Charlotte in Second Language tells her ailing mother when she visits her in hospital that she thought she would be asleep. ‘My eyes are open,’ the feisty lady replies. ‘If I’m asleep, they’re closed.’ But there is not enough of this in what are predominantly solemn stories. However, there are glimpses of vintage Ford in many observationally acute descriptions of our human condition, such as those of the dying Breezy whose breathing ‘had nothing much to do with anything going on inside her body’, and her mouth ‘gapped and went down, and her face relaxed from smiling and looked lopsided, as if the vitality that made it a face had subsided.’
Published in the Sunday Independent, 17/05/2020


Author: James Lawless

Irish novelist, poet and short story writer.

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