Reckless People

Independence Day

by Richard Ford
Knopf, 451 pp., $24.00

From the stories in Richard Ford’s collection Rock Springs (1987): “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.” Bobby’s ex-wife is giving him his last breakfast and the man she is now living with is telling the story, with some disgruntlement (“Sweethearts”).

In the title story, the narrator, Earl, with his daughter, Cheryl, her dog, Little Duke, and Earl’s girlfriend, Edna, are driving through Wyoming in a stolen car.

I’d gotten us a good car, a cranberry Mercedes I’d stolen out of an opthamologist’s lot in White-fish, Montana. I stole it because I thought it would be comfortable over a long haul, because I thought it got good mileage, which it didn’t, and because I’d never had a good car in my life.

The car develops trouble in the oil line and they have to abandon it in the woods. Somehow the little group gets to a Ramada Inn, and after a bit of food and lovemaking Edna accepts Earl’s offer of a bus ticket and takes off.

There he is, Earl, with Cheryl, the dog, and no car. They might as well be dead, as immobile as the stone urns for geraniums outside the inn. In the dark of night in the parking lot: “I walked over to a car, a Pontiac with Ohio tags, one of the ones with bundles and suitcases strapped to the top and a lot more in the trunk, by the way it was riding.” Standing beside the car, Earl’s inner soliloquy runs:

What would you think a man was doing if you saw him in the middle of the night looking in the windows of cars in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn? Would you think he was trying to get his head cleared? Would you think he was trying to get ready for a day when trouble would come down on him? Would you think his girlfriend was leaving him? Would you think he had a daughter? Would you think he was anybody like you?

Another story, “Optimists,” begins: “All of this I am about to tell happened when I was only fifteen years old, in 1959, the year my parents were divorced, the year when my father killed a man and went to prison for it, the year I left home and school, told a lie about my age to fool the Army, and then did not come back.” The father was working in the railroad yards when a hobo tried to jump off a train and was cut into three pieces. The father comes home ashen and trembling from the horrible accident he has seen. At home some recent acquaintances of his wife are playing cards. The visitor, more or less a stranger to the…

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