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Bookworm with John Boland: 'Takedown' of a deerslayer


Vanity Fair's James Wolcott

Vanity Fair's James Wolcott

Vanity Fair's James Wolcott

American novelist Richard Ford rents a house in Connemara every autumn and spends a good deal of his time there shooting woodcock, which apparently is a "treasured pastime".

I leaned this information from Observer literary editor Robert McCrum, who recently visited the acclaimed 70-year-old fiction writer at his west of Ireland retreat - a sanctuary where Ford "can revel in the independence of solitude and look forward to getting out his gun".

Coincidentally, after reading this interview, I took up James Wolcott's collection of essays, Critical Mass (just published by Doubleday), and came upon a 1989 piece on Ford which began with the observation that "He-man American writers have a heavy appetite for ammo" and went on to quote Ford himself, telling an interviewer: "I don't walk. I hunt. Something dies when I stroll around outside."

Wolcott's piece, originally written for Vanity Fair, is what Americans term a "takedown", and there are other hatchet jobs in his collection, which generally makes for entertaining reading, though Wolcott is often pompous in his pronouncements, while his obsession with ephemeral US media figures (Johnny Carson, Mort Sahl, David Letterman) can be wearisome.

But he has fun with Ford, describing him as a "sensitive deerslayer" whose short stories are haunted by "the ghosts of Hemingway and Raymond Carver and the badlands ballads of Bruce Springsteen". Indeed, "loaded with ammo, Ford has the Hemingwayesque part down pat".

And as for Wolcott himself: "I've never wanted Bambi's mother on my conscience. When I walk in the woods, I'm content to look."

Ford, who has teaching posts at Trinity College and Columbia University, is currently in the literary news with a book of stories about Frank Bascombe, the main character in three of Ford's most admired novels - an everyman figure in the manner of John Updike's Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom.

The stories, which I haven't yet read, may be masterpieces, but the book's title won't be winning any prizes - could no one at HarperCollins really come up with something less lame than Let Me Be Frank With You?

Indo Review