A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 24 – Sweethearts by Richard Ford

The cover of Richard Ford’s novel – The Sportswriter.

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 24 – Sweethearts by Richard Ford
Read it online here:

Sweethearts by Richard Ford

This was not going to be a good day in Bobby’s life, that was clear, because he was headed to jail. He had written several bad checks, and before he could be sentenced for that he had robbed a convenience store with a pistol—completely gone off his mind. And everything had gone to hell, as you might expect. Arlene had put up the money for his bail, and there was some expensive talk about an appeal. But there wasn’t any use to that. He was guilty. It would cost money and then he would go to jail anyway.

—-Richard Ford, Sweethearts

I am more than a little ashamed of the fact that I came to read Richard Ford’s work because of a perverse fascination with the cover of his novel, The Sportswriter. The odd thing is that I never found The Sportswriter to be my cup of tea. I simply couldn’t make a connection with the novel’s protagonist, Frank Bascombe. The second novel in the Bascombe series, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Though those well-written and highly acclaimed novels never were my favorites, I absolutely loved Richard Ford’s short fiction. It was rougher and tougher and had people in them that I cared about.

Today’s story, Sweethearts, is about a man tasked with helping his girlfriend take her ex-husband down to the penitentiary to start his one-year term of imprisonment. The criminal is a real piece of work – though everyone else in the story has made enough mistakes that they can’t be too unforgiving. It’s the kind of impossible situation we all find ourselves in now and again… and if you don’t, you’re not trying hard enough.

Richard Ford:

Do you think stories are created or discovered?

That’s easy. Stories are created. It isn’t as if they’re ‘out there’ waiting in some Platonic hyper-space like unread emails. They aren’t. Writers make stories up. It might be that when stories turn out to be good they then achieve a quality of inevitability, of there seeming to have been a previously existing and important space that they perfectly fill. But that isn’t what’s true. I’m sure of it. A story makes its own space and then fills it. Writers don’t ‘find’ stories—although some writers might say so. This to me just means they have a vocabulary that’s inadequate at depicting what they actually do. They’re like Hemingway—always fleeing complexity as if it were a barn fire.
—-from Granta


For Family & Friends

An advertising sign I saw outside a transit station in a rough part of town.

Short Story Day Twenty-Eight – Pretty Boy

28. Pretty Boy
Richard Ford

This is day Twenty-eight of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

The cover of Richard Ford's novel - The Sportswriter.

The cover of Richard Ford’s novel – The Sportswriter.

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