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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Richard Ford: "Rock Springs," "Communist," and "Sweethearts"

In a world where globalization runs rampant and writers are commonly identified by their nationality, we often don't consider American writers as such because they're so familiar to us. Richard Ford is one of the few exceptions, someone who is clearly American in many aspects (even though he claims that there is no difference between nationalities in writing). As Shelia Kohler says, his stories feel distinctly American. Like George Saunders, Ford discusses the idea of the American dream, but it's a different kind of American dream. Rather than the quiet desperation of the middle class, it's the clawing reach of the lower class, the ones not often written about.

Take "Rock Springs." Earl (a typically American name) spends the whole story trying to find something better, seeing it everywhere he goes, but it's still out of reach. The story is a classic example of what the American dream can be: nice cars, women, and exotic animals. But everything falls flat, empty.

Stories that reflect the American dream - and Americaness - reflect our desires and our problems. So if we look at Richard Ford as a mirror for America, what does it show? "Communist" and "Sweethearts" show the difficulty of relationships, popular in the dirty realism movement. The attempt and failure to connect with others, even those closest to us. The struggle of wanting what you can't have and knowing that you'll never have it.

What other elements of classic "American" life do these stories reflect? How are they "American?"