Tuesday, November 09, 2010

WILDLIFE by Richard Ford (1990) Random House

I am on a Richard Ford reading binge, flipping through each book that comes my way. Plus I have my Grade 12 writing students delving in as well to short pieces like "Leaving for Kenosha" (short story), "A City Beyond the Reach of Empathy" (nonfiction about immediate post-Katrina New Orleans), and "Gov't On Our Minds" (about the US midterm elections & published last week in The New Yorker)

Everywhere I turn Ford's prose startles and energizes me.

In WILDLIFE, set in Great Falls, Montana in 1960, protagonist Joe Brinson bears witness to the dissolution of his parents' marriage. Joe's father, Jerry Brinson, was a man who "loved the game of golf because it was a game that other people found difficult and that was easy for him." When he is fired from his job as a golf pro at a local club where he'd hoped to ride the coattails of his wealthy clients and experience the promise of good times that their successes suggested, Jerry makes the unconventional decision of joining a group of volunteer firefighters who will be facing the wildfire that threatens to destroy their community. His wife Jeannette predicts that Jerry will "get burned up," since his only knowledge of fires comes from library books.

Ford creates palpable tension between the main players of this three-day drama and at the end of those days it's difficult not to believe every word of what has happened to the Brinsons, all of whose lives have been made wild by the events. What is remarkable to me is how Jeannette and Jerry find their way back after so much has happened to rend them apart.

Richard Ford must be read. By picking up WILDLIFE, you will learn more about yourself and your capacity for dignity, courage and forgiveness--all essential elements of being human.

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