The oddest thing to me to think about here is take Richard Ford’s reference point on the 20th century. He was born in 1944, and so he was old enough for Vietnam and the 1960s activism, but the majority of his famous work came during his 30s and 40s and 50s, especially with the Frank Bascombe character, who is a less divisive parallel to someone like John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom. I am wondering who two different Thomas Merton references is for.
I was in a grad class in 2005-2006 in the two semesters during and then after Hurricane Katrina. And this was a little bit after the south Asian tsunami that killed 200,000+ people. The professor talked about both events as the kinds of things that would become touchstones in literature, both in terms of subject and in terms of reference points in the coming years. There have been dozens of books, movies, and tv shows I can think of about Hurricane Katrina, and significantly fewer about the tsunami, though Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth comes to mind for me. This collection of short stories either clearly lives in the post-Katrina world and several of the stories directly take place in New Orleans or the environs. It’s not exactly a Katrina book, and we’re fortunate that Richard Ford has spent a lot of time in New Orleans, living there for years, or else this book would feel a lot different. It’s also clear that this collection was gathered together over the course of many years, which means, like most collections like that, that this book has mixed results. Some of the stories are relatively forgettable, a place you live in for a short period, and then stop living in them. And some are more rounded and curious. The opening story is probably the strongest, about two people in their fifties, who dated and traveled together in their early 20s having a moment in time together.