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Richard Ford

When pushed to vote on the bleakest poem among Philip Larkin’s death-obsessed body of work, most would likely stump for his late masterpiece ‘Aubade’, that arid interrogation of human finitude. Yet his ‘The Building’, from 1972, is in many ways a more savage appraisal of individual extinction and the structures we build in an attempt to deny it: ‘Higher than the handsomest hotel / The lucent comb shows up for miles …’ Larkin was referring here to the Hull Royal Infirmary, a modernist pile which loomed over the poet’s hometown after it opened in 1967. Yet the poem could just as easily be translocated to Rochester, Minnesota, where the substantial modern tower of the Mayo Clinic stands: a building around which, too, surrounding streets stand like ‘a great sigh out of the last century’.

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Richard Ford, born in 1944, is a North American novelist, short story writer, and anthologist of considerable distinction. His recurring character Frank Bascombe – The Sportswriter (1986), Independence Day (1995), The Lay of the Land (2006), Let Me Be Frank with You (2014) – is a commanding figure of American letters to rank with John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, each a protagonist used by his creator over several novels as a litmus test of his contemporaries and their not always united states.

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'Our parents intimately link us, closeted as we are in our lives, to a thing we’re not, forging a joined separateness and a useful mystery, so that even together with them we are also alone,’ writes Richard Ford early in ‘My Mother, In Memory’, the first of the two memoirs that comprise Between Them, the Pulitzer Prize winner’s bewitching first bo ...

‘My name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.’ With those opening words in The Sportswriter (1986), Richard Ford introduced one of American literature’s more unlikely protagonists. In his fictional début, Bascombe is a former short story writer-turned-journalist, aged in his thirties, navigating suburban life in Haddam, New Jersey, after the death o ...

Richard Ford has earned a place among the most venerable practitioners of a durable brand of American realism. His fiction draws strength from its stolid traditionalism: its faith in the idea that formal conservatism, respectful attention to the lives of ordinary people, and a line-by-line dedication to the craft of writing are the surest paths to literary significance. His aesthetic, broadly speaking, is that of a writer who reveres Anton Chekhov and John Cheever, thinks everything James Joyce wrote after The Dead was a mistake, and believes with Ernest Hemingway that the only eloquence manly enough to deserve respect is a plain-spoken eloquence.

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