The Monthly (Australia) - - NOTED - STEPHANIE BISHOP

Richard Ford Blooms­bury; $18.99

One writes, Richard Ford claims, to coun­ter­act an “en­dur­ing truth of life: the world of­ten doesn’t no­tice us”. A writer’s life is lived in the ser­vice of “notic­ing and be­ing a wit­ness”. One of the most ac­claimed Amer­i­can nov­el­ists of his gen­er­a­tion, Ford is best known for his Frank Bas­combe se­ries: The Sports­writer, In­de­pen­dence Day, The Lay of the Land and Let Me Be Frank with You. The af­fa­ble yet ele­giac tone of Bas­combe’s nar­ra­tion now resur­faces in Ford’s tran­si­tion to mem­oir.

Be­tween Them: Re­mem­ber­ing My Par­ents is com­prised of two sep­a­rate es­says. The first fo­cuses on Ford’s fa­ther, Parker, and the sec­ond on his mother, Edna. Both par­ents came from the ru­ral South, where there was lit­tle money and min­i­mal ed­u­ca­tion. Ford tells a story of them ris­ing to higher sta­tions than an­tic­i­pated, but which, in ret­ro­spect, ap­pear mod­est and un­der­whelm­ing.

Parker started off as a gro­cery boy and be­came a trav­el­ling sales­man for the Fault­less Starch Com­pany, ser­vic­ing the south­ern states with Edna ac­com­pa­ny­ing him. Things changed with the ar­rival of their only child. Parker then trav­elled alone, re­turn­ing home on week­ends, and Ford came to know his fa­ther as some­one who was ab­sent. He and his mother formed their own semi-closed unit, which car­ried on un­til his fa­ther’s sud­den death in 1960, when Ford was 16. The es­say on his mother ad­dresses what oc­curred af­ter his fa­ther’s death: Ford’s tran­si­tion to adult­hood, the in­ten­sity of the bond be­tween a mother and an only child, and Edna’s death in 1981.

“To write a mem­oir”, Ford claims, “and to con­sider the im­por­tance of an­other hu­man be­ing is to try to credit what might oth­er­wise go un­re­marked”. In pon­der­ing this, how­ever, Ford is brought up against his own “in­com­plete un­der­stand­ing”. While Be­tween Them was un­der­taken in or­der to “rem­edy my long­ing by imag­in­ing them near”, it is just as much a record of lapses and blanks. Ford adopts a spec­u­la­tive mode, with pro­vi­sional por­traits evoked by miss­ing de­tails: “And how was it for him? Driv­ing, driv­ing alone? Sit­ting in those ho­tel rooms, in lob­bies, read­ing a strange news­pa­per in the poor lamp­light … smok­ing?” Of­ten­times, Ford de­vel­ops the scene in the neg­a­tive: “I don’t re­mem­ber the time of year of his heart at­tack … I don’t re­mem­ber it be­ing cold or hot.”

As a con­se­quence, what is most mov­ing is less the story told than the na­ture of the in­quiry: the long view taken by a son try­ing to imag­ine what his par­ents felt about their own lives, what these lives were like be­fore him, and what they have be­come in mem­ory.

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