Calling by Richard Ford, 2000
The magic trick:
Increasing the story’s weight by dropping various hints and comments about future events beyond the end of the narrative
This was a crucial story for me in Ford’s collection, A Multitude Of Sins. Amidst of relentlessly choppy sea of sharks and cheats, I found a welcome innocent in “Calling.” Buck Jr. might not be purely innocent, but at least he’s a child. It was a different frame of reference for Multitude’s world of adultery and self-imposed misery. Not only was it a much-needed respite from the loathsome-adult point of view, it put those other stories in a new context too.
It’s interesting to note that yesterday’s Ford story on the SSMT drew obvious connections to John Cheever with its title, “Reunion,” but today’s Ford story, far more than the titular twin, is reminiscent of Cheever’s “Reunion.” Imagine Cheever’s “Reunion” written by Tobias Wolff doing his best Eudora Welty impersonation and you’re getting close to “Calling.”
Like Cheever’s “Reunion,” “Calling” remembers a father-son relationship through the son’s eyes as an adult looking back on his childhood. More notably, the two stories share the habit of dropping in little spoiler comments here and there. In “Reunion,” Cheever writes in a moment of startling dramatic matter-of-factness, “And that was the last time I ever saw my father.” This kind of statement of grand perspective enlarges the story’s borders and increases the emotional weight. “Calling” uses the same technique. Buck Jr., the narrator, tells us mid-story what happens down the road to his mother, to his mother’s lover, to his father. It puts the story in a larger life context and adds meaning. And that’s quite a trick on Ford’s part.
She picked up her glass of milk, rose, pulled her loose white pajamas up around her scant waist and walked back inside the house. In a while I heard a door slam, then her voice and Dubinion’s, and I went back to preparing myself for Lawrenceville and saving my life. Though I think I knew what she meant. She meant my father did only what pleased him, and believed that doing so permitted others the equal freedom to do what they wanted. Only that isn’t how the world works, as my mother’s life and mine were living proof. Other people affect you. It’s really no more complicated than that.