a writer of place


It’s tempting to call Richard Ford a writer of place. Beginning with his first novel, 1976’s “A Piece of My Heart,” the 68-year-old author has tended toward the border among landscape, language and character, using setting to help drive his narratives. Think of Frank Bascombe, who in “The Sportswriter,” “Independence Day” and “The Lay of the Land” drifts across the bland surfaces of New Jersey, seeking not stimulation but a stasis similar to that of the suburbs where he resides. Or the people of Ford’s Montana books, “Rock Springs” and “Wildlife”: etched by the stark environment in which they find themselves, staring down the elements of their lives. It’s as if, Ford wants us to imagine, we live at the mercy of larger forces, forces outside ourselves, forces that determine who we are. And yet, he insists by phone from his home in East Boothbay, Maine, that’s not the case — or not exactly, anyway. “Growing up in Mississippi,” he recalls, “and being told that this defined me, set me on a path away from place as generative. When I started writing, I took the Toulouse-Lautrec attitude that place is background scenery. I didn’t want the place I came from to be responsible for me.”

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.