By Richard Ford
I have to admit I expected more. While it is possible that future re-readings of this book could open up new depths, I doubt that they would. Ford’s attempt to tell a very simple, uncluttered story is admirable and well written. But sometimes even the simplest stories need depth, don’t they?
Fordians would probably argue that Wildlife has gallons of implied depth. That’s the kind of thing people say about writers they won’t hear a bad word against. In this case, the depth really isn’t there. The novella follows Jeanette and Jerry, who move to a new town with their son Joe. When Jerry goes away for a few days, Jeanette falls in love with another man. Joe witnesses. Although Jeanette and Jerry are intriguing, Ford never showed me why. I was very curious about Jeanette’s matter-of-fact approach to life. I wanted to hear more from her, to realise where she came from.
I almost feel that, because she makes a few rum choices, it’s hard not to judge her without knowing more about why she is the way she is. Perhaps this is all Ford’s attempt to ensure I remain in Joe’s shoes. He’s our narrator and, as a child, he only sees the way things are, not why they are like that. Come to think of it, that’s a valuable project and one Ford executes rather well. But maybe it begs a second act, with Joe reflecting on the events of this summer?
The book does turn on a single, enlightening event. It is both surprising and yet just feasible. Some readers might find it too incredible, because we lack enough understanding of Jerry’s character, but it worked for me – just.
I’d recommend the book, but don’t expect to stick around in my memory for a long time.