“Imbued with warmth and wisdom” – Between Them by Richard Ford

Between Them, this book’s title, is meant, in part, to suggest that by being born I literally came between my parents, a virtual place where I was sheltered and adored as long as they were alive. But it is also meant, in part, to portray their ineradicable singleness – both in marriage, and in their lives as my parents.”

Richard Ford’s memoir about his parents presents two pieces of writing written some thirty years apart – one, the most contemporary of the two, about his father, and then an older piece about his mother, each of which, taken together, cumulatively present a picture of two people (three, if you include Ford himself) – Ford’s father, Parker, a salesman, perennially on the road, only home at weekends, given to distance, not one for tossing a ball around in the back yard, and Ford’s mother, Edna, a woman who created a life with her son, at first in the interstices of her husband’s absence, and later, after she was widowed, alone.

“She was intuitive, passionate, candid, quick-witted, mirthful, occasionally fiery and dire. And decent. And yet I can say that in all her time in life after my father died, her life never seemed fully lived.”

This push and pull – to understand his father (as Paul Auster did in The Invention of Solitude and arguably again in 4 3 2 1), to see his parents as people distinct from who he knew them as, to forgive himself, somewhat, for things said, unsaid, said wrong to his mother – makes for a compelling read.

“There were bad things enough,” he writes, after reaffirming how happy his childhood was, overall; but, particularly in his relationship with his mother,

“I have known that moment with her we would all like to know, the moment of saying, Yes. This is what it is. An act of knowing that confirms life’s finality and truest worth. I have known that.”

As you would expect from Ford, the writing is precise, imbued with warmth and wisdom, friendly, even avuncular. There are dark moments here (Ford’s mother held up against a wall during a row, that fades, as unpleasant moments have a tendency to do, as subsequent moments replace them), and there are gaps of understanding (Ford admitting the extent to which there are things it wouldn’t be possible for anyone but Edna and Parker to know), but for all that, the reading of the book proves its worth, for fans of Ford who wish to know more about how he became the man he did (and he shares with us that he took much from his early life in his early fiction, as you’d no doubt expect), but also for readers who just wish to read a story that is worth being told.

Any Cop?: Ford’s twelfth book is slight, certainly, but has enough power to have you wondering whether the time is fast approaching for one of those almighty re-reads, where you go back to the start – to A Piece of My Heart, written just over forty years ago, originally read by this reviewer back in the 90s, to The Ultimate Good Luck, to The Sports Writer, and Rock Springs and Wildlife and on, all the way up to Canada and Let Me Be Frank With You. Ford is a master and Between Them is a work of truth and beauty.

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