All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Wildlife – Richard Ford

on July 16, 2012

Richard Ford
Harvill Press
1996 (originally 1990), 162p
Read from my husband’s shelves

Joe Brinson is 16 and living in Great Falls, Montana. His family moved there, his father in search of something better, hoping to pre-empt a boom in the state. His father is a golf-pro at the local course but loses his job, sending him into a sort of funk. His mother is forced to go to work to keep their roof over their heads and after a while, Joe’s father Jerry announces that he’s going to go and fight a fire raging out of control somewhere nearby even though he has no experience and the fire is almost impossible to put out given the weather conditions at the current time.

Joe’s mother Jeanette has been teaching swimming at the local pool but the day after Joe’s father leaves for the fire, without her approval she brings home a man named Warren Miller and tells Joe that she is going to be working for him doing his accounts. Miller is older than his mother, walks with a limp and not that attractive. Joe is uneasy – his father has only been gone a day and his mother already has a strange man in the house and is acting very out of the ordinary. When they go to Miller’s house the next night for dinner, Joe is forced to confront the idea that something may be going on between his mother and Miller when she dances with him in the living room with Joe watching on.

When I attended the Melbourne event with Richard Ford last week, he mentioned this book as being the reason for why he no longer reads reviews of his work. Apparently he liked it a lot and thought it was very good but it met with quite a bit of criticism, which broke his heart. As a book blogger (not particularly a ‘reviewer’ as I’m not paid and do this purely for fun and my own interests) it can be easy sometimes to forget that you’re reading something that someone out there poured their whole soul in to. I once attended an event where an author described her books as being like her children and that criticism of each one hurt as badly as someone attacking her human children. So when Ford talked about this book, I wanted to read it – I already knew we owned it as my husband spoke to him about this book after the event. I dug it out and as it’s only 162p, knocked it over easily on Saturday night.

In this book I see a lot of the groundwork being laid for his most recent book, Canada which has apparently been around in some form for over 20 years. Both are set in Great Falls, Montana and both contain male teenage protagonists who could be quite similar. Both Joe and Dell are quiet, thinkers rather than speakers, both are overshadowed by charismatic, charming fathers. Joe does have a good relationship with his father, although he tries to please him by doing things that he thinks his father wants him to do. They spend time together and it seems as though they talk. In contrast, his relationship with his mother seems more tense – she doesn’t seem to really talk to him so much as at him and she presents him with statements and situations that she must obviously know is going to make him uncomfortable and also feel disloyal but this doesn’t seem to bother her. I didn’t much enjoy the character of his mother, I couldn’t understand her actions or motivations – yes she was annoyed that Jerry went to fight fires with the possibility of being killed but he wasn’t gone a day before she had a new man over in the house that she was clearly moving into a relationship with. There are hints at marital discord before Jerry leaves but the timing seems very off putting and I found it hard to get a grasp on her.

In contrast I found it all too easy to relate to Joe, a 16yo male! He clearly idolises his father and is confused about him leaving and then has to deal with his mother flaunting her new, possibly already sexual relationship in front of him and in ways that really, children shouldn’t have to see their parents doing. As I mentioned before, he’s quiet so he doesn’t voice his concerns either to his mother, or even to his father when his father telephones. He struggles with his feelings of loyalty toward both his parents and his confusion on what is happening to his family which is imploding in such a short amount of time. The whole meat of the book takes place over the course of about three days – it’s a lot for anyone to have to deal with and take in.

For what it’s worth, I really liked Wildlife although I’m well aware that I might’ve been predisposed to like it after listening to Ford speak about it with such love. I think Joe is sensitively written and I enjoyed his narrative in the same way that I enjoyed Dell’s. Given the length of some of Ford’s other novels, I was amazed by what he accomplished with this one in so few pages, highlighting a fragile family and a few seemingly simple actions that led to such a fracture. It had moments that really made me think and one in particular that shocked me but ultimately I really liked the resolution and the way in which Ford tied up all the fates of the characters.


Book #137 of 2012

One response to “Wildlife – Richard Ford

  1. Loni says:

    Since reading Canada, I’ve been wanting to read more by Ford. This seems like a great choice.

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