Reunion by Richard Ford, 2000
The magic trick:
Contrasting not the two men but two different time periods
I had high hopes for this one, having heard Ford discuss briefly on the “New Yorker Fiction” podcast its connection to the very fine Cheever story of the same name. To be blunt: it ain’t no Cheever “Reunion.” Once I got over that disappointment, I could assess its own merits – though I have to say, unreasonable comparisons aside, it simply isn’t that memorable a story.
Like all the stories in A Multitude Of Sins, this is a story of adultery. The contrast between the two men – the narrator and his former rival – is the crux of it. What I most enjoyed was the nature of the comparison. This isn’t a contrast of two men. It’s a contrast of two times.
Through the backstory, we learn of a past where the narrator had the upper hand. He was sleeping with Mack’s wife. He was embarrassing him, emasculating him. But through the story’s action, we see a present time where Mack is awaiting his daughter. He has no time for our narrator, who is on his way to another, presumably illicit, tryst. I guess your reaction kind of depends on your own tastes and moral compass, but I think the message is pretty clear: Johnny the narrator didn’t win. The contrast has not been kind to him. And that’s quite a trick on Ford’s part.
“Do you think there could be someplace else you could go now?” Mack said. His big, tanned, handsome face looked imploring and exhausted. Once Beth had said Mack and I looked alike. But we did not. That had been her fantasy. Without really looking at me again he said, “I would have a hard time introducing you to my daughter. I’m sure you can imagine that.”
“Yes,” I said. I looked around again, and this time I did see a pretty blond girl standing in the crowd, watching us from several steps away. She was holding a red nylon backpack by its straps. Something was causing her to stay away. Possibly her father had signalled her not to come near us. “Of course,” I said.