28. Pretty Boy
This is day Twenty-eight of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.
One day, a while back… I remember I was at a crossroads, but I don’t remember what that was. Some sort of ridiculous existential panic. In adjusting my way of looking at the world, I decided to change what I was reading. That’s the sort of pitiful thing that I do. So I sat down with a fistful of recommended novels lists, and after a bit of seeking and thinking, I came up with The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford. I’m ashamed to admit that one reason was a strange, and probably perverse, fascination with the book’s cover.
So I bought the book and its much-ballyhooed sequel – Independence Day, and read them (the third novel in the Frank Bascome trilogy, The Lay of the Land, had not been published yet) in one gulp. I wasn’t sure what to think of the books…. They were very, very well-written – but I simply couldn’t get myself to care enough about Frank Bascome. I felt sorry for him – for the loss of his child – but his drowning in angst by simply living out the life of a New Jersey family man, sans family, wasn’t interesting enough. There didn’t seem to be enough there there.
Then, after a couple years, I stumbled across Richard Ford’s short stories… which were another deal altogether. More specifically, I read the collection Rock Springs. I found there was some meat on these bones. The stories in Rock Springs put Richard Ford in the category of Dirty Realism (this term was coined by Bill Buford of Granta – he said, “Dirty realism is the fiction of a new generation of American authors. They write about the belly-side of contemporary life – a deserted husband, an unwed mother, a car thief, a pickpocket, a drug addict – but they write about it with a disturbing detachment, at times verging on comedy. Understated, ironic, sometimes savage, but insistently compassionate, these stories constitute a new voice in fiction.”) – along with Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Frederick Barthleme, Cormac McCarthy… and others. These are all writers I love and I was glad to find another one to read.
I read more about Richard Ford’s life – which I at first assumed was an Eastern, academic upbringing – to find he was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and lived a lot of places, including New Orleans (I think a person has to spend at least some time in New Orleans or he can’t fully understand humanity).
Hmmmm…. That’s odd. While I was putting this together, I discoved that the story is in two parts and I had only read the first.
Here’s the second – Pretty Boy Part Two
Give me a few minutes to finish it up and I’ll get back to you.
Ok, that was interesting. I think I liked the story better with the second half missing. There is a bit of action in the second half – but the characters are wooden and, in the end, it signifies nothing, or at least nothing much.
As a matter of fact, I wish I hadn’t read that second part. I think I’ll forget about it.
And so, he granted himself the year for his new money to take him someplace good. He told the two nice studious girls he’d been seeing since college that he was going away and maybe wouldn’t be back so soon. They each expressed regret. One drove him to the airport and kissed him goodbye. His family made no complaint.
In Paris, it was autumn, and he found a tiny, clean flat through a friend who knew a woman who did such things. It was light but noisy, so he was often out. He attended a beginners’ conversation class at the American Library, visited the American bookshop near where he rented in Rue Cassette. He read (for some reason) Thorstein Veblen and Karl Popper, but seemed to meet no one French. He declined dinner with the young business types from his class. He tried to speak, but found that if he spoke French to French men, they would answer him in English, which they wanted to practice.
—–Richard Ford, Pretty Boy