In each of these tales master storyteller Richard Ford is drawn to the themes of intimacy, love, and their failures. An illicit visit to the Grand Canyon reveals a vastness even more profound; an exacting career woman celebrates Christmas with her adamantly post-nuclear family; a couple weekending in Maine try to recapture the ardour that has disappeared, both gradually and suddenly, from their lives; on a spring evening's drive, a young wife confesses to her husband the affair she had with the host of the dinner party they're about to join.
Some of the stories are near classics. “Puppy” takes the unwanted abandonment of a dog within a couple’s fenced-in property as the catalyst for the disintegration of their relationship. “Crèche” is even more disastrous, in personal terms, as a broken extended family breaks even further during a misguided Christmas skiing vacation. “Under the Radar” is both unnerving and violent, explosively so as a wife confesses to having had an affair with the host of dinner party to which the couple are on route. Violence ensues but it isn’t entirely the anticipated violence. And there is just a hint that it might be a mercy, or at least no great deviation from nature.
The final long story (or short novella), “Abyss”, follows two real estate agents who are having an affair. Ford masterfully moves from one character’s point of view to the other’s in extremely close proximity, at times from one sentence to the next. Their actions, of course, define them, as the one character notes, but beyond that there are their words and behind their words, thoughts and intentions. Ford shows how what they say is often, perhaps always, undercut by what they think or intend, and both stand at odds with what they do. For characters so out of touch with their authentic being, it might be no surprise that a great abyss lies before them, though in this case it is the Grand Canyon itself. In another writer it might have turned into pathetic fallacy, but with Ford it blows past that risk and moves on to something altogether different.
There are very few characters to identify with in these stories, fewer still to feel sympathetic towards, and yet the writing is never less than compelling. Recommended, as ever.