A number of years ago I tackled Richard Ford’s novel The Sportswriter and found it heavy going, so I was reluctant to take on another of his works. However, I picked up this collection of his short fiction and decided to give him another chance. And, boy, am I glad I did. Rock Springs gathers a number of stories that generally take place in and around Great Falls, Montana, and feature characters either fallen on hard times or living a life of limited scope of opportunity.
In ‘Rock Springs’, a man travels in a stolen car with his girlfriend and daughter and their dog towards what they hope is their next chance at a life together. In ‘Sweethearts’, Russ and Arlene try to help prepare Arlene’s ex-husband for a prison sentence he’s handed down for bouncing cheques. In ‘Children’, George and his half-Blackfeet Indian friend, Claude, take custody for an afternoon of a young girl Claude’s father has shacked up with for a night or two. They are charged with keeping her occupied for the day and take her fishing, along the way examining in their limited way the enclosed horizons of their lives.
These are stories that capture the essence of small town American life. The sense of place is astonishingly well realised. The characters share much in common; many are on their way nowhere fast. There is a strange ambivalence displayed by many of the main viewpoint characters when it comes to love and/or fidelity, a sense that there will not or cannot be any serious repercussions to living in the moment of a cadged physical intimacy.
Ford’s women are perhaps more resilient than the men, fatalistic, accepting of the restricted circumstances of their lives, to an extent forgiving of their partner’s weaknesses. I especially like Lois in ‘Fireworks’ with her unbounded optimism in the face of economic blight.