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Walmart # 558632791


Walmart # 558632791
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Montana is truly Big Sky

Montana is truly Big Sky Country. With its globe-spanning horizons and skyscraper cloud formations, the state has attracted its share of writers who try to capture its peak-and-plain landscape and salt-of-the-earth citizens. Ivan Doig, Rick Bass, William Kittredge and Thomas McGuane are just a few of the best contemporary Montana authors. But perched at the top of my list is Richard Ford. His short story collection Rock Springs was not just great literature, it was also "great Montana." Ford, who admits in interviews that he's had more forwarding addresses than a rent-dodger, divides his time between homes in Montana, Louisiana and Mississippi. But it's the Big Sky Country and its people that have really stuck with him. His best writing takes place in the Hi-Line railroad yards, the Great Falls bars and the battered trailer parks. Ford has been raised on the shoulders of the literary community and cheered for his novels The Sportswriter and Independence Day. While I thought they were good works, I didn't think they were great. When Ford turns his pen to Montana, however, he is beyond great. Nowhere is that more evident than in the slim but powerful novel Wildlife, published in 1990. Set in the autumn of 1960, Wildlife is narrated by 16-year-old Joe Brinson who confronts his parents' frailties when his father loses his job and takes off to fight forest fires near the Canadian border. His mother, meanwhile, begins an affair with an older man. This not-so-simple love triangle plays out against a background of impending forest fires and brewing human jealousy. It's all filtered through Joe's perspective from that netherworld of neither child nor adult. The narrative beautifully captures the melancholy and pain of the spectacles he observes-grown-ups who behave like children and children who are forced to act like adults. There is not a single false note in Wildlife. Character, plot and dialogue converge into the finest example of Ford's writing to date. This is one of the few novels (John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is another) that I wanted to re-read the minute I finished it. Ford knows how to condense whole books of emotion and thought into the smallest of spaces. Here, for instance, is the very first paragraph of Wildlife: "In the fall of 1960, when I was sixteen and my father was for a time not working, my mother met a man named Warren Miller and fell in love with him. This was in Great Falls, Montana, at the time of the Gypsy Basin oil boom, and my father had brought us there in the spring of that year from Lewiston, Idaho, in the belief that people-small people like him-were making money in Montana or soon would be, and he wanted a piece of that good luck before all of it collapsed and was gone in the wind." Ford's stories are filled with "small people" chasing after "pieces of luck" and it's that very quality of his writing that draws me to him, time after time. I know these luck-seeking characters because I'm one of them. Like his good friend Raymond Carver, Ford writes gripping, truthful stories of the Everyman in America. He's at his best, however, when he's inside the borders of Montana.

Ford writes with a straig

Ford writes with a straightforward, clean manner. He doesn't tangle this story with a bunch of elaborate prose or character shifts. We follow the events as they unfold through Joe's rather naive sixteen-year-old eyes. Eyes that are unsure of what they are seeing and wary of what it all means for Joe's family and himself. It is a quick read and on one level, a rather simplistic one, but beneath the surface of Joe's story is a wealth of information and meaning for the reader to mine, if they choose to. The inside flyleaf of the copy I read explains this story better than I can: "Wildlife examines the limits of how fully we can know one another, no matter how close the bonds of passion or blood. And with compassionate intensity Richard Ford offers an abiding sense of family and love, and how both can suffer and yet somehow withstand the gravest uncertainties and sorrows. This story has a lot to offer, except any likeable characters. Joe comes across as overly naive for his age and his parents, well, they strike me as two loose cannons with put on facades that just come across as "fake, fake, fake". Overall, an alright coming of age story that feels dated.

A turbulent coming of age

A turbulent coming of age tale told from the point of view of 16-year-old Joe who is forced to bear witness to the immolation of his parents' marriage. Joe's father, Jerry, loses his job, unfairly, as the golf pro at the local course and his ensuing despair triggers a caustic reaction from Joe's mother, Jeanette. Jerry eventually seeks his salvation, or destruction, in joining a crew fighting a mighty forest fire to the west of their town of Great Falls, Montana. Jeanette takes his abandonment as something more and also rushes headlong to her own dark night of despair, all of this witnessed by Joe who both wants to be present and wants to run away. But all of the actors here seem caught in eddies of passion and circumstance well beyond their control. And all that any of them can do is hope to ride out the storm. Ford's first novel is firmly situated in the Montana of many of his short stories and of his late novel, Canada. The teenage narrator, looking back some years after the events being narrated, is wistful, almost laconic, perhaps as befits a prairie tale. Certainly Joe is in a strange place - a town he doesn't know well, and a place in life he is also unfamiliar with (the naivety of this teenager is only plausible due to the 1960 setting). Joe seems emotionally stunted, conflicted - saying one thing but often meaning the opposite, and then reversing himself almost immediately, and largely helpless in the face of his parents' marital strife. Only the quick pace of the tale (this is almost novella length) can keep Joe in the reader's sympathy. Had it gone on much longer I think the reader would get frustrated with him. With his parents all we can do is shrug and shake our heads. The writing is fully controlled but may at times feel overworked, which might not be surprising for a first novel. It would be hard not to imagine, had I read this back in 1990 when it was first published, that more and better would follow from the pen of Ford. And I would have been right. As for now, gently recommended for those who would like to pursue the early flourishing of Ford's Montana-vein of storytelling.

Joe is an only child, and

Joe is an only child, and up until this particular time, his life has been pretty good. His dad is not the most steady character, and although he is able to provide for his family, they don't have a lot of money and they move a lot. They arrive in Great Falls seeking opportunities related to the oil industry boom. A wildfire breaks out in the mountains nearby which affects the local economy and Joe's dad loses his job. The smoldering discontent under the surface of his parents' marriage bursts into flame. Joe has a front row seat, and Ford beautifully describes the way a teenager might attempt to come to terms with the failures and frailties of his parents. This was a quick and easy read. It is beautifully written and desperately sad. Since I like short stories, and I love Montana, I will probably try Rock Springs next.

The tag "short stories" o

The tag "short stories" on LT put me off reading this book for awhile. It is not a book of short stories as is obvious once you read it and the dust jacket calls it a novel multiple times. The protagonist is Joe the 16 year old only son of Jean and Jerry who have all just moved to Great Falls, Montana. Over the span of a few days Joe watches his parents' relationship fall apart. I was drawn in by Ford's simplistic prose and the dramatic setting of a forest fire burning a few towns away from the characters' home. Unfortunately for me, I identified with Joe on a few levels as I am experiencing many of the same things with my parents currently. The book almost hit a little too close to home for me. I think it says a lot about Ford's writing that I can identify with a teenage boy since I am not that demographic. Without giving too much away, I want to say that I appreciate how Ford handles the dynamic between the husband and wife in the book as neither character is flawless and Ford certainly doesn't paint either in a perfect light or clearly lay the blame on either side. I can see how readers could come away from Wildlife with multiple interpretations on what was going on in the parents' relationship. Despite the overall melancholy nature of the book, the pages flew by for me and I read it in almost one sitting. I recommend it.
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