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Likely Stories: Rock Springs

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Short stories of middle America and the characters straddling the line between good and evil, love and hate, success and failure.

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Quite a few years ago, a friend recommended Independence Day by Richard Ford.  It was the early days of my “Rule of 50,” so I decided to stop around page 23.  Then, recently, in an assignment in a graduate class, the novel loomed before me.  I had no choice but to claw my way through the nearly 500 pages of smallish font.  To my surprise, I engaged the character, Frank Bascombe almost immediately.  I began to see the character types Ford drew, and I quickly came to an understanding of his purpose in writing this story.  That fact that he reminded me of Richard Russo only added fuel to my reading.  Since then, I have been accumulating the rest of his works.

Rock Springs: Stories is an interesting collection of tales of Middle America and the characters straddling the line between good and evil, love and hate, success and failure.  Ford’s prose is simple and straightforward.  Most of the characters have a matter-of-fact attitude towards their situation.  In the title story, Earl and Edna are driving a stolen car across the country with their daughter Cheryl in the back seat.  The car breaks down, and they do worry about a state trooper stopping to help – but only for a minute or two.  They want to make it to the next town so they can steal a new car.

I really didn’t have one favorite story – I enjoyed them all equally.  However, I did enjoy this exchange between the narrator, Russ, and Arlene, his wife in the story titled “Sweethearts.”  “‘What do you think when you get into bed with me every night?  I don’t know why I want to know that.  I just do’ Arlene said.  ‘It seems important to me.’ // And in truth I did not have to think about that at all, because I knew the answer, and had thought about it already, had wondered in fact, if it was in my mind because of the time in my life it was, or because a former husband was involved, or because I had a daughter to raise alone, and no one else I could be absolutely sure of. // ‘I just think,’ I said, ‘here’s another day that’s gone.  A day I’ve had with you.  And now it’s over.’ // ‘There’s some loss in that, isn’t there?’ Arlene nodded at me and smiled. // ‘I guess so,’ I said. // ‘It’s not so all-bad though, is it?  There can be a next day.’ // ‘That’s true,’ I said. // ‘We don’t know where any of this is going, do we?’ she said, and she squeezed my hand tight. // ‘No,’ I said.  And I knew that was not a bad thing at all, not for anyone in any life. // ‘You’re not going to leave me for some other woman now, are you?  You’re still my sweetheart.  I’m not crazy, am I?’ // ‘I never thought that,’ I said.” (67-68).

Other stories involved sons reminiscing about their childhoods, a crotchety old man who finds children playing with fireworks bothersome, and some Native Americans trying to scratch a living in the plains of Montana.

These stories all please on different levels.  I found much empathy for the struggles of these “ordinary Americans,” and I wanted them all to get what they wanted.  I think you will find – as I did -- Richard Ford’s 1987 collection of short stories, Rock Springs, a most pleasing companion on a rainy afternoon.  5 stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.