Between Them: Remembering My Parents
by Richard Ford
“Who were Parker and Edna Ford?” asked Trine Tsouderos in the Chicago Tribune. You would be forgiven for not knowing—or for thinking you have no need for the answer. But because Parker and Edna were the parents of novelist Richard Ford, “a writer of enormous skill and compassion,” they will become important to you if you give their story a chance. Ford, a Pulitzer Prize winner, “has not tried to build them up to be more important or remarkable than they likely were.” Parker was a traveling salesman from Arkansas; Edna was his spirited traveling companion for the 15 years before motherhood forced her to settle down. They remained madly in love with each other, Ford tells us. Yet he mostly engages our interest by inspiring reflection on why even loving parents are so hard for their children to fully know.
Ford’s father poses the greater challenge, said William Pritchard in The Boston Globe. Because he traveled, Parker was home only on weekends as Richard was growing up in Jackson, Miss., and he died of a heart attack when his only son was just 16. Imagination thus fills in some blanks, and the most vivid pages of Between Them conjure what life on the road was like for Parker and Edna before Richard’s 1944 birth. Parker, we’re told, was “a large man—soft, heavy-seeming, smiling widely as if he knew a good joke.” Though the author knows much more about his mother, his writing about her is less interesting except in moments. When she leaves him at college, their parting provides perhaps the book’s most poignant scene.
“But a memoir shouldn’t be a conveyor belt of recollections,” said William Giraldi in The Washington Post. Ford does manage to impart a few scraps of wisdom, but through most of this 175-page “wisp of a book,” he almost resists offering insights. Of course, “it’s only in fiction that a writer has the luxury of omniscience,” said Cheryl Strayed in The New York Times. Rather than pretend he knows more about his parents than he does, Ford has shared “deep, attentive wondering about them,” a wondering that brings them “palpably to life.” ■